Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why zing him, Weisinger?

In issue #98 (12/10) of the always excellent comic fanzine Alter Ego, Joyce Kaffel, daughter of longtime DC Comics editor Mort Weisinger, reminisces about her polarizing father (who died in 1978).

On one hand, Weisinger was known for co-creating Aquaman and Green Arrow as well as expanding the Superman mythos; he oversaw the first appearances of Krypto (a dog from Krypton with the same powers as Superman), the Phantom Zone (an extra-dimensional Kryptonian prison), the Kryptonian city of Kandor (which villain Brainiac shrunk and put in a bottle), and more.

On the other hand, Weisinger was notorious for his abusive treatment of writers and artists who worked for him. One who bore significant brunt was Bill Finger, the co-creator and original writer of Batman. Jerry Robinson has stated that overhearing Weisinger berate Finger made him (Jerry) cringe.

Never-published still from 1950s home movie; possibly shot in California.

We have some idea of Weisinger’s side of the story—it seems he felt he could take a hard line with his talent in the best interest of the stories. I haven’t seen any commentary from Finger on Weisinger, though there are likely published accounts I don’t know about from other writers and artists.

At a 1965 comic book convention in New York City, Finger and Weisinger shared the stage on the first-ever panel of comics creators. Yet the transcript of that panel, which ran in Alter Ego #20 (1/03), reveals little if any animosity between Weisinger and Finger. I guess they had their game masks on.

While the thought of Weisinger belittling Finger saddens me (just as any case of belittling would), in this case, given that they were both adults, I do hold Finger at least partially responsible for letting this happen. I realize he was in the subservient position, but that doesn’t mean one must endure humiliation. Today bullying is a hot-button issue, but it seems that it was an almost acceptable part of the corporate climate in the 1950s and 1960s. A man could dish it out, and a man had to take it.

On a tangential note, I was shocked to read that Weisinger’s name was eventually added to the indicia of the comics he edited. It’s not that he didn’t deserve credit; it’s just another reminder that Finger did, yet never got it.

Also, it was ominous to see mention in the 1946 article from Pic (“The Magazine for Young Men”), whose first page is reprinted on page 26 of this issue of Alter Ego, that Siegel and Shuster were in a higher tax bracket. Why ominous? Here's why.

And I liked how Weisinger said that that dynamic duo “used the mailman for a salesman” (though, of course, at that time, everyone had to do that; not even those science fiction pioneers had Internet access yet). In fact, Weisinger’s turn of a phrase echoes one that I wrote for my 2012 Bill Finger book.

I’ve had the pleasure of speaking and e-mailing with Joyce several times. Her Alter Ego article is consistent with how she comes across personally: honest, independent, well-spoken. She doesn’t ignore harder truths. I found the last line of this article about her dad quite sympathetic, though it doesn’t lessen the sting I feel on behalf of Finger.

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