Thursday, March 27, 2008

If Bill Finger was on LinkedIn: prologue

In the next day or five, I will begin a series revealing how I tracked down various people who knew Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator and original writer of Batman.

It won't include the other comics creators I talked with, from Jerry Robinson to Carmine Infantino to Alvin Schwartz. Online networking makes most of them easy to find, which makes for a dull story. Instead I'll be focusing on people who knew Bill from outside of comics. His family. His friends. His military colleagues. (He didn't serve but he did work for the army in the 1960s.)

In some cases, I won't be using real names. (I will indicate when I'm using pseudonyms.) Many people I interviewed were Bill's contemporariesnow in their eighties. Most were happy to help me, but identifying them online is more attention than they want. If my manuscript becomes a book, I'm hoping to acknowledge them by name. Yes, that's exposing them as well, yet because it's more traditional, in my mind, it's also more sacred.

Bill died in 1974. The fact that he died young (just shy of 60) is tragic enough. But the fact that he died a year before the Siegel and Shuster settlement makes his death even more tragic. I constantly wonder how it would have affected him had he been alive. Would he have been emboldened to go after credit and compensation for himself? Frankly, I doubt he would have done it on his own, but perhaps others would have come to his defense as they did for Jerry and Joe.

The timing of Bill's passing is tragic for another reason. He died after fandom had learned of his long-hidden role in Batman but before enough had been done to document him firsthand. If not for Jerry Bails and Jim Steranko and Mark Hanerfeld (who recorded the audio of the creators panel at the 1965 New York Comicon), we'd be left with almost nothing on Bill but living memory.

There was seemingly so little to find and I felt so compelled to find it. I was never competitive athletically, but researchically, hoo-boy. In search of Bill Finger, I found a lot of people I'd set out to find topped by a series of close relatives none of us knew existed. By chance, I happened to find them in an order of natural escalation: longtime writing partner, second wife,
nephew, niece, granddaughter, sister. From this group I obtained some but not all of the "new" Bill photos. Only one of them (his granddaughter) had been contacted by a previous Bill Finger researcher.

Yet there is still more to find.

At least two other Bill interviews existed at one point, but the whereabouts of both are currently unknown. One may have gone lost forever in the abyss of academia. The other is probably there for the finding, but it's in a house so cluttered with boxes and stacks of papers that I was told a team of five people hunting eight hours a day for a month would barely dent it. If my manuscript becomes a book, I will want to go there and search.

It's in Vermont.

I'll need a team.

Who's with me?

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