Thursday, July 31, 2008

Grandma Lois Lane

Over the decades, multiple women have claimed to be the inspiration for Lois Lane. One name that seems to pop up more than most others is Lois Amster, who went to high school with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Various sources report that Joe, Jerry, or both had a crush on her. It was ultimately a Mr. Rothschild who won her heart.

Since July 22, I've been announcing the release of
Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman to my network. If you've ever met me, you have probably heard from me within the past week. Yes, even you, the guy I small-talked with in line at the bagel place on 1st and 23rd in NYC in January 1996.

Another person on the list is a friend of mine from BBYO, the Jewish youth group I belonged to in high school. His name is Jason Rothschild. If you've paid attention, you may already know where I'm going with this.

Jason responded to my e-mail saying that Lois Amster (now Rothschild) is his grandmother, now age 92, still in Cleveland.

Yes, the love of Superman's life is my old friend's Nana. That's one version of it, anyway.

Even though Jason remembers that I was a superhero buff, somehow his alleged Lois Lane link never came up back then—or it did and I somehow forgot.

Yet another sign that you may never really know who you know until you do an e-mail blast.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Before Bill Finger's "Dark Knight"

I give Bill Finger credit for as much as I accurately can. I credit him with being the co-creator of Batman. I credit him with nicknaming Batman "the Dark Knight." However, I have been careful not to credit him with coining that phrase.

Savvy writer J.L. Bell picked up on this subtlety and took it a step further. His post brilliantly shows one kind of gap that blogs fill. Where else would you see such a piece of research?

Monday, July 28, 2008

"...best and most accurate depiction...in print"

Brad Ricca, whose Superman documentary Last Son debuted this past weekend, posted very nice words about Boys of Steel on his blog. (I was unable to attend the movie premiere but have heard only raves and look forward to watching it this fall.)

5/18/11 update: Brad's wonderful blog appears to be deactivated, so here is his kind review in full:

All Ages Means Everybody Gets It

I’ve been waiting for the right time to plug Marc Tyler Nobleman’s new book, i.e., when people actually came here (slight glare). But no worries, and now is the time as it has just come out: it is an illustrated, non-fiction book about Joe and Jerry that a) is not only the only book of its kind on the creators, but is also b) the best and most accurate depiction of their lives in print. Yes, I used a period there. Marc is a tireless researcher who has opened up MANY a dead-end others (me included) had abandoned. And the illustrations are really amazing. So go buy his book at the store or order it here. It is definitely for all ages—if you like Superman, want to learn more about his creators, or just want to pass the story on to the next generation OH JUST BUY IT. It’s the same as three gallons of gas and makes a great gift.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Keeping up appearances

I've added a list of upcoming appearances; look down and to the right and please check back regularly for updates.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dads, guys, "Boys"

The GeekDad blog on the WIRED site reviewed Boys of Steel: "an excellent read."

An interview about this and a future book is at a blog called Guys Lit Wire.

A write-up on the book is at Cool Cleveland, a cultural round-up of the city's offerings.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Boys of Steel" is in stores today

Wrote the first draft on May 3, 2004.

Many drafts later, sold the manuscript on March 3, 2005.

Today, July 22, 2008, the book comes out.

You can get it here or here.

Thank you for your support!

Monday, July 21, 2008

"New" Bill Finger photo 1 of 9

In honor of...

a) the imminent release of Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman (7/22/08—tomorrow!)
b) the imminent start of Comic-Con 2008
c) the success of The Dark Knight (a term Bill Finger first used for Batman)

...I am making good on a commitment I made soon after I started this blog in February 2008. I posted a "new" but murky image of Bill Finger
(uncredited co-creator of Batman), saying that around now I would begin to post the nine better "new" photos of him I found while researching a book. Only three photos of Finger have previously been published, one only once, in 1941.

Here's the deal: linking to these images is more than appreciated but please do not re-post or use any of them in any way without permission. If anyone breaks the deal, no more photos! Given the subject is Bill Finger, I'm sure the unspoken parallel is clear.

First, to wade in slow, a photo of one of Finger's aunts and his mother on a beach in the 1940s:
photo courtesy of Bill Finger's first cousin

Now "new" Bill Finger photo 1 of 9
(I don't officially count the one from that previous post since it's virtually unrecognizable), also on a beach and also probably from the 1940s:

photo courtesy of Bill Finger's granddaughter

That's Portia, his first wife, with him. The scene gives a wee look at a side of Finger's personality that hasn't been seen; they are hamming for the camera.

And yes, the second Finger photo I've shown is also the second in which he's topless. (I actually have a third topless Finger shot, which happens to be the best of all the "new" photos, topless or otherwise.)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"This book is that good"

Boys of Steel was plugged in the Chicago Tribune. But the Chicago Tribune did not say "This book is that good."

That was here. Hadn't heard of them, but I instantly liked them. This is one sharp reviewer. Did I consciously intend all the levels of his analysis? Uh...yeah, of course.

Friday, July 18, 2008

What "The Dark Knight" is missing

The Batman movie The Dark Knight opens today. Even though I have not yet seen it, I already know what it's missing.

Batman’s “Dark Knight” nickname first appeared in 1940 in Batman #1 (page 7, last panel) and shortly after in Detective Comics #40, in stories Bill Finger wrote. (For those just joining this blog, Bill Finger is the uncredited co-creator and original writer of Batman.)

By virtue of having written a book on a DC character but with no real clout otherwise, I asked a decision-maker at DC several months ago if that Batman #1 citation could be acknowledged in the screen credits for The Dark Knight—after all, “Batman” is not even in the film’s title. I emphasized that I was not asking if Finger could be credited as “co-creator” (because that's a legal minefield right now) or even if Finger could be credited with coining the term "dark knight" (because it's unlikely that can be proven one way or the other). I was asking only for a simple statement of fact.

The answer was expected. The answer was no. So Finger’s name is not there, but as with all Batman stories, his Fingerprints will be all over it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Superman and superstars

The Cleveland neighborhood (Glenville) in which Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman wants to acknowledge that. Part of the fundraising effort is an appeal to high-profile Superman fans via a letter that went out this week.

The celebrities:

* Howard Stern—mentions Superman on air quite often
* Jerry Seinfeld—featured Superman in almost every episode of his sitcom
* Jon Bon Jovi—Superman tattoo
* Nicolas Cage—named his son Kal-El, Superman's Kryptonian name
* Gene Simmons (KISS)—has a self-proclaimed "passionate" relationship with Superman
* Shaquille O'Neal—Superman tattoo
* John Ondrasik (Five for Fighting)—big hit song "Superman (It's Not Easy)"
* Joey Fatone ('N Sync)—Superman tattoo

The pitch:

Ask “Who is Clark Kent?” and most anyone can answer that it’s Superman’s secret identity. Ask “Who are Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster?" and you’ll probably get only shrugs and head scratches.

Before Metropolis, Smallville, and Krypton, Superman came from Cleveland. The world’s first comic book superhero was created by teenaged writer Jerry Siegel and his artist friend Joe Shuster, who lived 9.5 blocks from one another in the Glenville neighborhood. For too long, we in Cleveland have done little to pay tribute to our red, yellow, and blue legacy.

For this year’s 70th anniversary of Superman's debut, the city is beginning to change that. Among our plans:

* restore Jerry Siegel’s former home
* place matching markers at Jerry's house and the site of Joe’s former apartment building (demolished in 1975)
* install honorary street signs Siegel Lane and Shuster Lane
* host a Siegel-and-Shuster-themed race and block party to promote good health and community spirit
* erect a larger-than-life statue of Superman flying off a building in the center of our business district

Your fondness for Superman is no secret. And while none of us in real life have “powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men,” we all have the power to do great good in different ways.

We are working to raise $x by September 10, 2008 to pay for the two commemorative markers we would like to erect this fall. We would be super-thrilled and super grateful if you would help us reach our goal—any amount is deeply appreciated. Any money we raise in excess of the final cost of the markers will be redirected to the fund for the Superman statue. We will gladly provide documentation itemizing how all contributed money spent and list your name as a sponsor on all marketing and media materials. And of course, if we do reach goal, we’d be honored if you would join us for the race, block party, and marker unveiling. After all, where else will you get to run a sixth of a mile to the stirring John Williams theme from Superman: The Movie or snack on organic mini-pizzas in the shape of Superman’s emblem?

The response:

Cross your fingers that there will be one.

Meanwhile, please spread the word! To contribute, e-mail me and I'll send you the right way.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Joe Shuster draws...Batman

Though I've been immersed in Superman and Batman research for four years, a somewhat obvious question had not occurred to me: did Joe Shuster, Superman's co-creator and original artist, ever draw Batman?

Today, a gentleman who interviewed me recently for both ComicMix.com and a Connecticut radio show called Fairfield County Business Showcase sent me this:

(In other words, yes.)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Other Jerry Siegels

A tale of marketing madness:

One night I took a break from sensible promotional tactics and Googled "Jerry Siegel." I was not looking for the Jerry Siegel of Boys of Steel. I was looking for any other Jerry Siegel. I found maybe five or six with e-mail addresses online.

And I e-mailed them.

I asked if they knew of their almost-famous namesake.
I heard back from three. None of them deemed me deranged—not to my digital face, anyway:

Jerry Siegel, the dean: "I am very familiar and of course a fan of both the character Superman but also the creators. ... It is interesting how often people ask me if I was the creator of Superman even though that would make me considerably older than I am."

Jerry Siegel, the professor: "I used to watch the old Superman TV show as a kid and enjoyed my namesake's achievement. I have a replica of Superman and a cel from a Superman cartoon and a little Superman doll in my office. When I first came to LA in 1973, they were shooting the Superman movie with (I think) Christopher Reeve. I was called by a couple of reporters who found my name in the phone book. I was introduced for one of my professional talks at the University of Chicago as 'the creator of Superman' and told the person introducing me that that was the best introduction I ever had (even if slightly inaccurate). So me and Jerry go way back."

Jerry Siegel, the photographer: "I was a Superman fan as a kid, but not so much now. Should be considering the name. The other side of the team, Joe Shuster
well, my father was Schuster Siegel."

I found even fewer Joe Shusters and heard back from none.

Two of the subjects of the next four nonfiction picture books I'm working on are quite likely the only people in the world with their respective names. Those cases will necessitate some new form of marketing madness.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Jerry Siegel's next house

On my January 2007 photo research trip to Cleveland, my second stop (after Jerry Siegel's Kimberley Avenue house) was the house he moved into after Superman was a success.

The snow was still falling as I parked in front of it at 4 p.m. I didn't need images of this for my book, but I am a completist, so I took a couple of steps onto the snow-thick driveway and began to take pictures.

Then the front door opened.

A smiling man called to me to come inside.

"I'm sorry?" I said.

"Are you the appraiser?" he said.

I could have pulled a Lois Lane and lied so I'd get to go in, but I told the truth
—and still got to go in.

I was quite surprised to find myself standing in my second former Jerry Siegel house in one day. The man graciously showed me around. He had not known the co-creator of Superman used to live there. I thought that might help up the list price. The only aspect of the house that dated back to Jerry's time in it (early 1940s) was a (refinished) bathtub.

However, I am not a complete completist because I didn't photograph that.

Monday, July 7, 2008

A white and Gray day

Common sense says a writer does his research before writing the book. I first visited Cleveland, the setting of Boys of Steel, in January 2007nearly two years after I wrote (and sold) the book.

However, my mission was to gather photo reference for the illustrator. I wanted the images in the book to be as authentic as possible, though most readers would not know one way or the other. My first stop would be 10622 Kimberley Avenue—the address of the still-standing house where Jerry Siegel lived when he thought up Superman in 1934.

I wanted to get in to take photos so I didn't want to show up unannounced. I did not know that the family now living there regularly and kindly lets people in, nor did I know that certain comics professionals could have given me the family's name and phone number.

In advance, I wrote a letter to the unknown occupants, including my cell number. I planned to drive
immediately from the airport to the house; if no answer, I'd leave the letter and hope they'd call me before my four-day research trip was over. (I'd mailed the house a similar letter in August 2005 and hadn't heard back, but that lacked urgency because I wasn't in town at the time.)

I landed in a snowstorm. I arrived at the house mid-afternoon.
It was so cold my digital camera pretty much shut down. I didn't expect to see anyone outside, so I was happily surprised that a woman was scraping ice off her windshield right across the street from 10622.

I trudged up to her. "That's Superman's house," I said, pointing to the one painted red and blue and displaying numerous pieces of Superman merchandise in the first-floor windows. Yeah, dumb thing to say, for more than one reason.

"That's my house!" she said.

I introduced myself. Turns out this was Fannie Gray, around age 30, tutors kids in the neighborhood. She said it'd be up to her dad whether or not I could go inside, and as it happened, he pulled into the driveway right then. I am not embellishing.

Standing in shin-high snow on the front lawn not much bigger than a large picnic blanket, Jefferson Gray said I could come back on Thursday afternoon. It was Tuesday. Thursday was the day before I would leave. That was cutting it close
—what if at the last minute they wanted to move the date? I would have almost no cushion. I asked if I could come anytime sooner but he didn't budge on Thursday.

So I came Thursday. The family, as has become legendary among Superman aficionados, was more than gracious. I spent at least 30 minutes in their house, taking photos with both a digital and a backup disposable camera.

I will see the Grays later this summer when the neighborhood commemorates both Jerry's former house and the site of Joe's former apartment building with some special markers.

In the meantime, here are a few photos of the attic where Jerry typed stories. Jefferson Gray shows up in one, pulling back a curtain so I can shoot the window. Pay attention to that window
—you'll see it again.

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