Monday, August 22, 2016

A lifetime with superheroes

My earliest superhero memory is watching Superman: The Movie while eating McDonald's in the front row in my pajamas. One or possibly all three of those last details may be wrong; as I often say, memory is notoriously unreliable.

However, I know I saw the movie and I know it moved me and I know afterward I asked my dad for a Superman comic and he obliged.

And from there it all went downhall of justice. 

There were costumes after costumes...and not just for Halloween:

 2nd grade; I'm masking my frustration at being forced
to wear my winter coat over my costume.

 7th grade

 12th grade

 The only pair of Underoos I remember having: Aquaman.
 The shark tooth necklace courtesy of my mom,
queen of the little touch.

 The Blue Bagel and Lox Lad appeared only once:
Halloween 1993.

 In 1993, I sent in an audition tape 
(and went to a casting cattle call in Boston)
for Robin for the upcoming movie Batman Forever.

I also dressed superhero in my secret identity (i.e. everyday life):

 For the most part I've been a DC devotee
but have occasionally mingled with Marvel.

Artistic endeavors:

 Drawn in 2nd grade.

 Shazam, Superman, and Green Lantern a la Lite Brite.

 Flash, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman.

 Batgirl (?) and Hawkman.

 Can you spot Aquaman out of his natural environment?

Speaking of Play-Doh, more toys:

 Boldly showing off a superhero birthday gift like
Rafiki presenting Simba to the animal kingdom...
or the high priest holding up the still-beating heart of
the sacrifice victim in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

 That's my sister and my Spider-Man.
I had many Mego dolls but
this is the only known photo of one.

 Note the promotional booklet for an action figure line
that blew my mind: Super Powers (debuted 1985).
I have no idea about the other stuff my sister and I are holding.

 Super Powers assembled. I had every figure in 
wave 1 and wave 2 but none in wave 3, though I wish I'd
gotten Plastic Man, Shazam, Mr. Miracle, Samurai, and Cyborg.

 Super Powers Batman vs. the Joker on 6/20/89...
in honor of the opening that day of Tim Burton's Batman.

The following boys and girls are not me but rather friends each forced to hold one of the first 13 Super Powers superheroes for my "photo essay." I will spare you all 13 photos just like I'm sparing them the embarrassment of including their names.

 Strange that comics were such a huge part of my childhood yet
I have only two photos of myself holding one. 
Here is one: me, family, and Batman and the Outsiders #6.
The other shows me with the epic Tom and Jerry #312 
(Gold Key, 1978, though the photo was taken a few years later).

 There's a Batman on that there cake.

 Two of my dear friends and a gift they got me upon
graduation. Yes, of college. 
Not pictured: the Flash glass they also gave me.

Sometimes my superhero passion veered into obsession. In case that wasn't already clear...

The summer of '89, when Batman seized the throat 
of pop culture, I apparently sent something to a local
radio station in which I apparently called myself "Batman."
They wrote me back. And indulged me.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Three boroughs/four records offices in one summer’s day

On 8/17/06 (a decade ago today), I was a human pinball. I made a hot mad dash around New York City in search of various vital records of Bill Finger’s family.

It felt like I did an inhuman amount in one day, and looking back, I was surprised to see that I didn’t even get started on the intensive portion till midday. The timeline:

9 a.m. Leonard Grossman’s apartment to watch short video of a 1950s DC Comics holiday party to see if Bill made an appearance, Leonard’s father was cartoonist Rube Grossman, who amassed quite a collection of Golden Age comics art

11 a.m. short meeting at Nickelodeon (where I was freelancing at the time)

11:30 Midtown Comics

12 p.m. Manhattan City Clerk to look for the marriage certificate of Bill and his first wife Portia, but they search only three years for $15 and I have a larger range, 1940-1948, so I planned to find out more and come back

2 p.m. Queens Surrogate’s Court to look for the will of Bill’s father Louis, but it was not there; according to the Death Index, Louis died in Queens, but according to Social Security, he died in Brooklyn, so I shot over (via LIRR and subway) to…

3:15 p.m. Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court to look for the wills of both Louis and Bill’s son Fred, who died in 1992 (the most recent of all Finger deaths); however, Louis’s was not there, either; on the court’s computer, I tried “Frederic Finger”—no hits; then “Fred Finger”—no hits; finally just “Finger” (what possessed me, I don’t know)…and he finally turned up; it was not a will but rather a seemingly similar document called a settlement of estate, only two pages; the person to whom Fred bequeathed his possessions was new to me: Charles Dennis Shaheen; I was lucky that (a) Fred left this document, (b) I found this document, (c) it had a name, (d) the name was not so common, which makes it easier to search for online; more this fall on Fred
s will...

4 p.m. Manhattan Surrogate’s Court to look for the wills of Bill or his first wife Portia; I figured neither would be there and I was right

5 p.m. back to Brooklyn to go to Fred’s (and Charles’s) last known address, 388 Sackett Street in Carroll Gardens; first called information but Charles’s number was unlisted at the customer’s request; I took that as a sign that Charles was still alive and still in Brooklyn; got to the brownstone on a lovely street and could not see a name on the door; I asked two young smokers next door if they knew if a “Charles” lived here and they said yes; when I asked a couple more questions they directed me to his restaurant (another good sign—Fred was a chef), around the corner; they asked if I am with the IRS; sign at restaurant read “Gone Fishing” so I went back to the brownstone; then I learned the Charles there is not Charles Shaheen; this was pre-iPhone, so I had to wait till I was home to search online, at which point I learned that Shaheen had died in 2002

The days travels, in sum:


(Told you I was a pinball.)

The differences among the various offices in accessing vital records were baffling.

Related: at the Queens and Brooklyn courts, they held my voice recorder, but not at the Manhattan court.

But the important thing: learning that Shaheen was dead meant I was inadvertently on the track to helping Bill’s granddaughter receive Batman royalties. Except I did not yet know Bill had a granddaughter...

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Guess the kidlit desks contest

Many of your favorite authors/illustrators of children's/YA books have…

Now, inspired in part by a 1996 book called The Writer's Desk and in part because I've apparently got a thing for desks, you're about to see their workspaces. Actually, you're about to guess their workspaces. That's right...this time, it's a contest. And there are prizes. (Rules/deadline below.)

The 36 authors/illustrators/desks:

Tony Abbott ***
Jeff Mack ***
Tom Angleberger ***
Scott Magoon ***
Jonathan Auxier
Richard Michelson ***
Samantha Berger ***
Jerry Pallotta *
Lisa Brown
Matt Phelan *
Lauren Castillo *
Nora Raleigh Baskin ***
Matthew Cordell ***
Debbie Ridpath Ohi *
Sarah Darer Littman
Barney Saltzberg *
Sue Fliess
Steve Sheinkin
Liz Garton Scanlon ***
Neal Shusterman *
Chris Grabenstein
Andrew Smith ***
Deborah Heiligman *
Lemony Snicket
Barbara Kerley *
Elizabeth Rose Stanton
Daniel Kirk ***
Don Tate
Kirby Larson
Terry Trueman ***
Tara Lazar ***
Deborah Underwood ***
David Lubar ***
Eliza Wheeler *
Maryann Macdonald ***
Dan Yaccarino *

* = new participant in my kidlit side projects
*** = Triple Player (participated in bad reviews, Proust, and desks)

Because 36 participants would make this perhaps a bit too challenging, I have broken the contest into two subcontests, each with 18 desks to guess.

Do any desk photos contain clues to whose desks they are, such as a name on a sign or screen or an image in a framed photo? In a couple of instances, maybe…but so small, and so infrequent, I encourage you to skip that level of scrutiny. Instead take in the environment as a whole, take a guess, and take your chances.

In two cases, you are seeing the "summer desk"—the makeshift one in use where those authors/illustrators were vacationing when they received my call for entries.

To play:

  1. In the comments section below, make two simple numbered lists (#1-18 for subcontest 1, #19-36 for subcontest 2) of your guesses by midnight EST at the start of August 26, 2016. (It'll be easier if you print both lists of authors to refer to rather than scroll up and down.)
  2. Email me those same guesses so I can contact you if you win. (If you'd like to play but not for prizes, just skip this step.)

Winners will be announced here on August 27, 2016.

The prizes (three tiers):

  • The three people who get the most right per subcontest (six total) each win a copy of my latest book Brave Like My Brother signed by any of the 36 participants. I'm (partially) kidding: each book will be signed, but unfortunately, only by me.
  • Anyone who gets all 18 right in either subcontest also wins a second signed mystery book.
  • Anyone who gets all 36 right (i.e. all 18 right in both subcontests) also wins a free school visit from me (U.S. only); if you are not affiliated with any school as either an educator or a parent, you may donate the visit to a school of your choice. (Sampling of feedback from my past school visits and other speaking engagements.)

Subcontest 1 of 2

The 18 authors/illustrators included here:

Dan Yaccarino
Lauren Castillo
Don Tate
Chris Grabenstein
Nora Raleigh Baskin
Eliza Wheeler
Jonathan Auxier
Lemony Snicket
Samantha Berger
Daniel Kirk
Matthew Cordell
Barbara Kerley
Kirby Larson
Lisa Brown
Andrew Smith
Elizabeth Rose Stanton
Deborah Heiligman
Deborah Underwood

The desks:



















Subcontest 2 of 2

The 18 authors/illustrators included here:

Matt Phelan
Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Neal Shusterman
David Lubar
Tony Abbott
Liz Garton Scanlon
Tom Angleberger
Sarah Darer Littman
Richard Michelson
Barney Saltzberg
Sue Fliess
Tara Lazar
Terry Trueman
Jeff Mack
Steve Sheinkin
Maryann Macdonald
Scott Magoon
Jerry Pallotta

The desks:



















Good luck!
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