Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thirteen schools in Nebraska

As has happened multiple times before, I spent the second two weeks of October speaking in schools far from home. This time, in the unspoiled Nebraska towns of Elkhorn and Gretna. Hearty, lovely folks.

Glimpses along the way:

 Overseen at one school. Self-explanatory.

 This and the next two images are from 
West Dodge Station Elementary.

 Picturesque Zorinsky Lake, 
where I ran every other evening.
Most nerve-racking part:
finding a place to hide the keys to my rental car. 
I think I can trust you:

At Westridge Elementary, they ordered Superman and Batman
cookies for a staff lunch...

...but the bakery heard a name other than “Superman”:

(the bakery owned the mix-up, giving the school the 
Spider-Man cookies anyway and making the Superman ones)

Students at Hillrise Elementary decorated pumpkins based
on books they like, and three chose Boys of Steel:

On 10/23/14, thanks to Stephany Albritton, the kind media specialist who initiated this trip, I had the privilege of speaking to a fun class of teachers-in-training at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. A tangent or two floated to the surface, including an anecdote I shared about an author who signed 150 copies of his books...only he was not the real author.

Several days later, as thanks to me for visiting her class, Stephany gave me a copy of Boys of Steel...signed by people who were not the authors: the students. But this time, it was welcomed! They even posed as a bunch of Supermen, Superwomen, Batmen, and Batwomen:

Skyline Elementary a) held a contest for students to design posters announcing my visit and b) created a cool display true to its name:

Manchester Elementary was one of the schools that treated me to a homemade lunch, including this cake which cheekily welcomed not me exactly, but my blog:

Lastly, at Spring Ridge Elementary, I ran a game I regularly play during author visits in which I call up five pairs (each time one boy, one girl), one pair at a time, to answer certain questions. For the first time ever, I unknowingly called up two consecutive pairs who had the same two names...Ben and Ava. It may not seem noteworthy at first, but considering I have done this game for almost ten years, and considering "Ava" is not so common a name in my world, it sure shocked me!

Thank you, Nebraska! See you again soon, I hope.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Chupacabra restaurant in Washington DC

Chance brought me to the almost inevitable place to celebrate when my book The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra comes out (hopefully in 2016).

Spotted from a bus:

The home page of what turns out to be a restaurant:

Best part? That phone number.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Robert Porfirio (interviewed Bill Finger in 1972), 1938-2014

On 10/19/14, Robert Porfirio passed away. I never met Bob and know little about him. What I do know is that he was wonderfully kind...and one of the most important people in the story of documenting Batman co-creator Bill Finger.

Bill’s legacy is lousy with people who—like Bill himself—have not gotten sufficient credit for their contributions:

  • Jerry Bails—the fan who “discovered” Bill, was the first to interview him (in 1965), and singlehandedly spread word to other Batman fans
  • Tom Fagan—another pro fan who interviewed Bill, also in 1965
  • Jim Steranko—the only author to publish an interview with Bill in Bill’s lifetime, in 1970
  • Thomas Andrae—the primary writer of Bob Kane’s autobiography (1989); it was Tom who urged Bob to give Bill as much credit as he could in the book

And Bob Porfirio.

On 5/20/07, which was at the tail end of my research for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, a generous novelist and popular culture historian named Will Murray contacted me (what follows is a consolidation of multiple emails):

I have discovered there exists an unpublished Bill Finger interview. Probably substantial. I and another researcher and looking at trying to get it into print. The interviewee is retired, but interested. The interview is at a university and will have to be released.

It shapes up like this. Robert Porfirio interviewed Finger late ‘60s or early ‘70s. [It turned out to be 1972.] And others. Never did anything with the interviews. He had worked at DC as office help, and through DC got this [entrée] to numerous comics people. Then went into teaching. When he [retired] from teaching, he left his papers at the university where he taught. They were forgotten.

But one of his other interviews fell into my hands in a strange way. I contacted [Robert]. Learned of these [other interviews].

On 6/30/07, thanks to Will, I first spoke with Bob. Nice as all get-out. He’d interviewed Bill at Bill’s place in New York. He remembered that Bill was a gentle guy who made Bob shut off the recorder for certain anecdotes, i.e. how editor Mort Weisinger would haunt Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, calling him at odd hours to rip apart his scripts.

When Bob left his job at California State University, Fullerton in 1980, he left the interview there and kept no copy for himself. Upon hearing from Will in 2007, Bob asked Fullerton if they could track down the interview and they tried—but they found neither tape nor transcript.

In early 2008, when considering going to my first San Diego Comic-Con, I asked Bob (who lived in San Diego at the time) for advice on scoring a hotel room in the ultra-competitive crucible of Comic-Con booking. Though he barely knew me, he graciously offered me to stay with him. (I didn’t end up going.)

On 11/25/08, while packing for a transcontinental move, Bob emailed “I found some of the tapes I made of comic industry people back in the seventies.”


“I do see one tape marked ‘Finger.’


On 12/2/08, Bob’s son-in-law emailed me a digital copy of the 28-minute interview—the first time I’d heard Bill’s voice. It is only one of two known audio recordings of Bill speaking, the other being his 1965 panel at a New York comic convention. Bob’s full interview was subsequently transcribed in Tom Andrae’s book Creators of the Superheroes. And a clip of it is in the book trailer I made for Bill the Boy Wonder.

Bob, thank you for interviewing Bill Finger and for taking the time, 25 years later, to look for that interview for me. I know you had other accomplishments worth noting, but this is the way I knew you. I regret that we never met in person. You were a good man.

Special thanks to (and photo courtesy of)
Lareesa Mumford-Pope.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Getting to know the “Getting to Know Jon Scieszka” DVD

Like many authors of books for young people, I’ve long admired Jon Scieszka for his humor, his generosity, and his grooming. Once I had the pleasure of being on a panel with Jon, though this photo offers no proof.

I recently learned that a book I wrote makes a nonspeaking cameo in a Weston Woods film about Jon’s life, Getting to Know Jon Scieszka.


(The director’s cut was released under a different name—The Wolf of Wall Street.) 

Thank you, Jon, for including of Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, and thank you for all you do to motivate boys to embrace the adventure of reading. You are the Wolf of Book Street.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Krypton of Omaha

Thank you again to Dean Phillips, owner of the spacious and special comic book shop Krypton Comics in Omaha, for inviting me to do a signing. I appreciated your initiative and generosity. You are a man with his finger on the pulse of both comics conservation and good hostmanship.

Plus you made one of the coolest promo posters I have had the privilege of appearing on (perhaps tied with this one):

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My sequels

Felix Explores Our World (1999) sequelizes (and incorporates) The Felix Activity Book (1996). 

Vocabulary Cartoon of the Day Grades 2-3 (2010) sequelizes (prequelizes?) Vocabulary Cartoon of the Day Grades 4-6 (2005).

Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman (2012) sorta sequelizes Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman (2008). Well, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster do cameo in it...

The “Girl in the Video” interview series had a round 2 (2014)...following, of course, a round 1 (2013).

logo adapted by Leigh Cullen @DesignLeigh

The kidlit authors read bad reviews series launched with three videos and no certainty of continuation, but a month later, three more appeared.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The greatest Batman story ever told

Mark Waid wrote the biographies of the men who wrote and drew the stories featured in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told (1988).

Here is the beginning of the bio for Bill Finger (which continued on the next page):

Two aspects jump out:

  • Bill has since been credited with writing four of the stories in the book (“Dr. Hugo Strange Strange and the Mutant Monsters,” “The Origin of the Batman!,” “The First Batman,” “Robin Dies at Dawn”), but only one (“Mutant Monsters”) is listed after his name. The book came out before the grassroots, meticulous detective work of sites including the Grand Comics Database; at that time, comics historians simply had not yet re-established who worked on some Golden Age stories. (Proof that it was not a deliberate slight: no one else in the biography section of the book is credited as writer for the other three stories.)
  • The word “created.” Mark doesnt break down which of those four A-list villains Bill created vs. co-created, but it was still a strong statement. (By the way, Bill created the first three.)

Thank you, Mark, for taking a stand at a time when that was risky; accurate as phrasing is, I am surprised it made it into print.

The greatest Batman story ever told? If you ask me, it is not in the book. In fact, it is not yet finished. It is the story of the legacy of Bill Finger, Batman’s primary creative force, being officially instated after 75 years.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

“Kidlit mashups” in 1999 “Nickelodeon” Magazine

Upon seeing my kidlit mashups, Chris Duffy, my friend and a former editor of Nickelodeon Magazine, recalled a similar piece that ran in Nick Mag 15 years ago (two years before I began writing for the magazine).

He was kind enough to track it down, scan it up, and zip it over.

It was not based on wordplay like mine, but it did combine picture books with novels like mine. Mine features five of the same books but none of the same mashups.

“A Novel Mess,” puzzle written by Robert Leighton, art by R. Sikoryak
Nickelodeon Magazine (9/99), pages 30-31

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

No "Bill Finger" in GOTHAM credits...but no "Bob Kane," either

This omission is, I believe, a first in the history of (official) Batman narrative:

As pressure to credit Bill mounts, I wonder if leaving Bob out is a ploy to defend not putting Bill in...

Friday, September 26, 2014

“Vocabulary Cartoon of the Day” curriculum guide

I have written two books called Vocabulary Cartoon of the Day, both for Scholastic; one for grades 2-3, the other for grades 4-6, the latter drawn by me, the former by major mensch Mike Moran

Ideas for using these books—and single-panel cartoons in general—in teaching (most adjustable for any grade from 2 up):

  • caption multiple choice—Copy various cartoons and cut off the captions. Show students each cartoon and a choice of captions (you can sneak in some dummy captions, too); ask students to determine which caption fits which cartoon. It will be interesting to see if any captions could fit with more than one cartoon. You can also make multiple sets, divide the class into teams, and make it a race.
  • vocabulary word multiple choice—Copy various cartoons and blank out the vocabulary words. Show students each cartoon and a choice of vocabulary words (you can sneak in some dummy words, too); ask students to determine which word fits which cartoon. You can also make multiple sets, divide the class into teams, and make it a race.
  • vocabulary word fill-in-the-blank—Copy various cartoons and blank out the vocabulary words. Show students each cartoon and ask them to guess (based on context clues) the approximate meaning of the missing word—or maybe even the word itself; in doing so, they will either get it right or learn a new word.
  • write a caption around different words—Assign each student a different vocabulary word around which to write/draw a cartoon. Alternate 1: ask them to make note of the next unfamiliar word they encounter while reading and build a cartoon around that. Alternate 2: ask them to close their eyes, open the dictionary, randomly point to a word, and build a cartoon around that.
  • write a caption around one vocabulary word—Give the whole class a word around which to write/draw a cartoon. Despite the same starting point, they will produce a notable diversity of ideas.
  • caption/art fill-in-the-blank—Copy various cartoons; with some, blank out the caption and with others, blank out the art. Ask students to fill in the blanks, whether it’s a funny caption to go with art or art to go with a funny caption.
  • cartoon detective—Show students various cartoons. Ask them to determine which kind of cartoon each one is—one in which all the humor is in the caption or one in which you need both text and art to make it funny?
  • find the funny—Show students various cartoons (single-panel or comic strip) and ask them to identify where exactly the caption and/or art gets funny.
  • next panel—Ask students to create the next panel for any of my cartoons; add another layer by asking for their panel to incorporate a vocabulary word from another cartoon in the book.
  • rewrite my captions—Ask students to come up with alternate, fitting captions for any of my cartoons. You could first show them the caption I used, or you could show them only the art—that way, maybe some will come up with a caption similar to mine!
  • cartoon switcheroo—Ask half the students in the class to write a funny caption, half to draw a funny picture. Without notice, collect and randomly redistribute the half-cartoons; ask each student to complete the one they get.
  • synonym switchout—Show students a multiple choice of synonyms for the vocabulary words in various cartoons and ask them to eliminate the one that is not a synonym.

Please share any other ideas you have and I may add them here!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The fortuitous timing of my pop culture interviews

I was born in the early 1970s, which means I grew up as a member of the last pre-Internet generation. The entertainment of my formative years was, of course, not obsessively documented for public consumption the way so much is today.

Since 2011, I have been running various series of interviews with pop culture figures of the 1970s and 1980s—people whose names you never knew but whose roles you vividly remember, from the songwriters and singers behind the Scooby-Doo theme to girls who appeared in iconic music videos during MTV’s heydecade.

When I started this blog in 2008, I didn’t plan to include this kind of feature. But I’m glad the idea came to me, and I think there is a certain combination of factors that have made it both possible and well-received:

  • I’m old enough to have gained the perspective to want to document this era.
  • I gained this perspective while many of the people I want to profile are still with us.
  • Many of the people I want to profile are still young enough (i.e. in their seventies or slightly younger) to have a social network presence and/or to regularly email, which sometimes (but not always) makes them easier to reach.
  • Many of the people I want to profile have not been in the public eye since the digital age began, so there is little or nothing already online about them (I like telling stories that no one else has).
  • Although plenty of people are (often exuberantly) interested in such content, there is no better outlet for it than the Internet. Mainstream magazines typically don’t run such interviews because they see the topics as too niche or too nostalgic (plus the magazine industry is shrinking by the day); some widely-read pop culture sites (Yahoo, USA Today’s Pop Candy, AV Club, Nerve) have been interested in covering the material but may not want to run it in its original form because the long-ish interviews may seem too detailed for the typical web reader (though my readers are proving that wrong!).
  • It turns out that I have a knack in tracking down people, even those with little trace online (whether due to age, disinterest, or privacy settings).

Ten years ago, it would have been much harder to find people online. Ten years from now, many more of the people I seek will no longer be around.

To me, the time is always right for nostalgia. But this time is especially right.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Not one but two (technically three) short films about Joe Shuster

On 7/30/14, which happened to be the 100th birthday of Superman co-creator/original artist Joe Shuster, someone alerted me to a short (Spanish, intertitled) film about Joe Shuster, and one with a curious approach. This Is Joe (Éste es Joe) focuses on a sad (yet disputed) incident decades after Superman debuted. Unfortunately, since then, for a reason I do not know, the video has been taken down. (10/1/14 addendum: But you can now see it here.)

 It was entered in this contest.

The closing shot is reminiscent of one of the Jerry Seinfeld/Superman commercials.
(Now we need a Jerry Seinfeld/Jerry Siegel commercial.)

Nice to see Joe in the spotlight for a change; it’s usually Siegel and Shuster or just Siegel (the play The History of Invulnerability), though Shuster was the subject of Craig Yoe’s well-researched book Secret Identity (even if he might not be keen about his fetish art coming to light).

This reminded me of another short film about Joe, part of the “Heritage Minutes” series produced in his home country of Canada, which I first mentioned here in 2008:

The Canadian film credits Joe for some of Jerry’s ideas and I had minor quibbles with some of the phrasing of the newer one—but what’s more important is that, more and more, people are recognizing the significance of these creators enough to bring them to life, if only for a minute. It makes me want a full-length Siegel and Shuster feature film even more (and believe me, I’ve been trying for years).

The Heritage Minutes film is apparently a big enough deal in Canada that there's actually a spoof of it:

Parody...that’s when you really know you’ve made it.
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