Saturday, January 18, 2014

Superman artwork lands at JFK Library

A Superman comic depicting John F. Kennedy, originally released shortly after the president’s assassination, on January 9 finally made its way to the JFK Library in Boston, where illustrator Al Plastino had thought it had been for nearly 50 years.

“That’s the story we would hear when we were kids, that’s the story he would tell at Christmas, the fact that it was there at the library in the archives,” said Plastino’s daughter, MaryAnn Charles.

Plastino, who died last November, realized that his original work, “Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy,” was not in fact housed at the Harvard-based library when news of the comic’s auction broke near the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. Plastino was at New York Comic Con when he heard the news.

“When my father saw that, he got really upset,” Charles said.

The 10-page comic was produced in conjunction with the White House to promote Kennedy’s physical fitness program, but was not yet completed at the time of the president’s assassination. It was shelved until a couple months into Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency, when Johnson specifically requested that it be finished. Plastino added a special splash page to the work before it was released, depicting President Kennedy in the clouds. On the last page of the artwork itself, it said the art would be donated to the JFK Presidential Library.

“The thought was that this would be a good thing for kids and for his legacy,” Plastino’s lawyer, Dale Cendali, said. “It was a really important thing to him.”

Pictured from left: Al Plastino Jr. and MaryAnn Plastino-Charles holding the splash page of the original Superman art from “Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy” with Jay Kogan from DC Entertainment.

Last month, DC Comics purchased the work (though the company declined to say from whom or at what price) and donated it to the JFK Library, fulfilling Plastino’s dying wish. But it’s still unclear where the original artwork was all this time.

Plastino’s family contacted the JFK Library to see if its records indicated DC’s original intention to donate the work fifty years ago.

“A thorough search showed no evidence that the artwork had ever been offered to the library or was ever a part of its collections,” said Rachel Flor, a spokesperson for the library.

A recent statement from DC Comics says they acquired and donated the work “as a tribute to honor [Plastino] and preserve his artistic legacy,” but made no mention of where the work was during the past 50 years or why it was not originally given to the library. According to the statement, they were “fulfilling Plastino’s longtime hope for the story” by donating the work to the JFK Library. When asked about the mixup, DC representatives had no comment.

“I think that probably it was taken by someone at DC back then, and sold, and kept, and sold over the years to various dealers,” Charles said, adding that they had traced the ownership back to folk rock musician Graham Nash while starting the litigation process to find out the current seller. A few days before the first hearing would have taken place before Judge Hagler in New York Supreme Court, DC stepped in and purchased the work.

“We’re happy with the outcome, and grateful to a lot of people for helping,” Charles said.

She said that the death of her father in the middle of the process (and before the work arrived at the library) has been “pretty horrible,” but says she feels peaceful now knowing the work is where her father always wanted it to be.

“It’s a piece of history,” she said.

Flor told LJ the library “will plan some way to make them available to the public, but those details have not been worked out yet. We are still working on finalizing the legal transfer, which must be complete before we can do any kind of display.”

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