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When Did Jimmy Olsen Become a Photographer?

by  in CBR Exclusives, Comics, Comic News Comment
When Did Jimmy Olsen Become a Photographer?

In “When We First Met”, we spotlight the various characters, phrases, objects or events that eventually became notable parts of comic lore, like the first time someone said, “Avengers Assemble!” or the first appearance of Batman’s giant penny or the first appearance of Alfred Pennyworth or the first time Spider-Man’s face was shown half-Spidey/half-Peter. Stuff like that.

Reader Christopher B. wrote in with an elaborate question that I just instantly knew would take a whoooole lot of research for me to answer, but hey, I at least have the answer now (or rather, my best attempt at the answer). Christopher wrote:

I have a question I’ve been wondering lately that maybe you could address in a “When We First Met” column. I’ve been trying to figure out when Jimmy Olsen was first depicted as a photographer. It’s the way he was portrayed in the Richard Donner movies, and it’s been the default job for Jimmy ever since. I used to take it for granted. But lately I’ve realized that it wasn’t his original job. When he debuted on the radio series, he was a copyboy/office boy, and he eventually graduated to cub reporter. The few Golden Age comics that used him were apparently consistent with this. He was a cub reporter on the George Reeves series, and I’m pretty certain he was never a photographer there — I believe there’s a scene in the pilot where Perry orders Lois and Jimmy to go down to the airfield and take a photographer with them.

One website claims that Jimmy became a photographer in the comics in the ’50s to reflect the visual orientation of the TV series (whose
popularity had prompted the comics to reintroduce the Jimmy character after rarely using him in the Golden Age, and then to give him his own series). But this page of covers for Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen doesn’t give any evidence that he was portrayed as a photographer there — the cover illustrations and text consistently portray him as a reporter, and there are hardly any covers where he’s holding a camera. From what I gather, “Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen” portrayed Jimmy as an adventurous reporter, and in the ’70s he became an on-camera star reporter for WGBS.

It’s possible that the ’48 and ’50 serials portrayed Jimmy as a photographer, since I’ve found one photo of Tommy Bond’s Jimmy holding a
camera. But I haven’t seen those serials in a long time, so I’m not sure. And I can’t find any other evidence that Jimmy was portrayed as a
photographer or photojournalist at any time prior to the Donner movies.

So what’s the history for this? How and when (and, if possible, why) did Jimmy Olsen get retconned from a reporter to a photographer?

As noted, after appearing as a character in the “Adventures of Superman” radio show, Jimmy Olsen became a regular character in the comic book series, as well (he might have debuted before the radio show, but not REALLY). He showed up sporadically and was merely an office boy..

Then came the “Adventures of Superman” TV series, where Jack Larson’s Jimmy Olsen was a regular cast member in the series and a sort of intern/cub reporter.

So in late 1953, a couple of years into the series, Jimmy Olsen was brought back into the series as a regular cast member and as a cub reporter…

Right around this time, he also got his own ongoing series, “Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen.” In that series, he was also a cub reporter. As Christopher noted, he might have occasionally used a camera, but it was clear that photography wasn’t the main focus of his job at all. This was the status quo for many years.

Then the “Superman” movie came out, and Marc McClure played Jimmy as a photographer for the first time…

However, by that point, Jimmy was an investigative reporter for Galaxy Broadcasting as WELL as an investigative reporter for the Daily Planet, so he did not suddenly pick up photography. Although, it is fair to say that more stories showed Jimmy using a camera in the late 1970s/early 1980s…

I figured that, okay, the Byrne reboot must be when he became a photographer, but nope, Jimmy was still a cub reporter. In fact, during the point in time when Superman was in outer space, Jimmy actually took over for Clark Kent a little bit as a writer.

No, the transformation into photographer took place in the oddest way. First, Jimmy was fired by the Daily Planet after they had some budget cuts in 1991 (to go along with the recession at the time). Things got so bad that Jimmy was living in his car, and it was then that he found a camera in “Adventures of Superman” #486…

He befriended Bibbo, who gave him some work and a place to stay. It was while with Bibbo that he mailed off his photos in “Action Comics” #673…

And eventually they arrived in “Action Comics” #674, and Jimmy loved them…

During the alien invasion that set off the crossover, “Panic in the Sky,” Jimmy accidentally ran into Newstime Publisher Colin Thornton, who saw Jimmy’s photos in “Superman: Man of Steel” #9…

In “Action Comics” #675, Jimmy came looking for work and was quickly hired as a freelance photographer to cover the alien invasion…

Once the invasion was over, Jimmy had enough cache to sell himself to the Daily Planet as a photographer, and that’s what he did in “Adventures of Superman” #489…

And Jimmy was a photographer from that point on, including taking one particularly memorable photo during the “Death of Superman” in “Superman” #75…

Jimmy’s photography career exploded after that (the “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” TV series also helped matters by Jimmy being a photographer on that show) and while he had the occasional stint doing other things (like a brief TV career), he has pretty much been a photographer ever since. And it only took four decades for him to go from cub reporter to photographer!

Thanks to Christopher B. for the suggestion! If anyone else has an idea for a future edition of When We First Met, drop me a line at!

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