Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bill Finger the "Playboy" wonder!

In "The Super Psyche," the April 2012 Playboy article by Gavin Edwards about Grant Morrison, the legendary comics writer weighs in on certain characters he has written.

Though Morrison's interpretations of superheroes are almost always absurdly inventive and often polarizing, it was something else in this piece that earns the title of Most Provocative. 

On the Joker:

"Created by: Bill Finger, art by Bob Kane, concept possibly provided by Jerry Robinson."

On Batman:

"Created by: Bill Finger, art by Bob Kane (disputed)."

Make no mistake. Those are rallying cries. Not only are they boldly giving Bill lead credit, they are, for all intents, giving him sole credit.

It's not clear if Edwards or Morrison provided those credits, though I'm assuming Morrison. In either case, it was some of the best reading I've done in a while. And yes, I'm talking only about those two credit lines.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Bill Finger added to list of Notable Bronxites


On 4/12/12, the Bronx Historical Society added Bill Finger to their list of Notable Bronxites. I had the honor of drafting the mini-bio (which was not mini enough and so was whittled down a bit). An excerpt (though can you give an excerpt of something so short to begin with?):

During his Bronx years, Finger designed Batman’s now-iconic costume, wrote the first and many of the now-classic Batman stories, and created or co-created characters including Robin, Joker, Catwoman, and Penguin—characters so prevalent in pop culture that even people who have never read a comic book can identify them.

More Bill-Bronx brouhaha to come.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The first “outsider” take on “Bill the Boy Wonder” is…

…courtesy of Kim Krug and Kathleen Skoog, owners of Monkey See, Monkey Do…Children’s Bookstore in Clarence, NY.

 

By “outsider,” I simply mean person who is not my wife, parent, best friend, or editor. When it comes to kidlit, Kim and Kathleen are very much insiders…which is why this feedback about Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman is especially heartening:
This book is a fantastic read for young readers and adults! I loved the graphics! The illustrations are lively, bright, and bold…! Amazingly, I learned the history and little-known secret of the TRUE inspiration and creator of BATMAN! This summer we are featuring a Superheroes and Villains camp at our bookstore and this will be our featured book!

Thank you, K & K! Let’s do some Monkey business!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Superman = Springsteen, Batman = Bon Jovi?


Bruce Springsteen’s kids went there. Bon Jovi’s kids, too.

And now that I've spoken at Rumson Country Day School in Rumson, NJ, the students there have been exposed to two other pop culture legends (albeit from a different field): the creators of Superman and Batman.

In a way, Superman = Springsteen and Batman = Bon Jovi. And I’m not just talking about the first letters. Springsteen is the square-jawed, broad-chested champion of the everyday person. Bon Jovi is a bit “edgier”—or he was in the 1980s, at least in comparison to Springsteen.

Even though the lyrics are darker than many realize, the title of “Born in the U.S.A.” feels more Superman. (Even though he was born on Krypton, he seems more American than Batman.) And it seems that you’d sooner catch Batman singing “Bad Medicine” or “Wanted Dead or Alive.”

Then again, Springsteen seems more taciturn, more mysterious—that’s Batman. And the Bon Jovi of today is more smiley—that’s Superman.

While we're on the subject, some postulate that Batman's Gotham City is in New Jersey...

Okay, back to Rumson!

They welcomed me with a dynamic display and one unlike any other I’ve seen: Superman smashing through a wall made of student-decorated Superman bookmarks.



It seemed like half the books I signed were to a "Caroline" or "Jack":


RCDS is an example of how referrals are worthwhile. In January, I spoke at Stonehouse Elementary in Williamsburg, VA.

The librarian formerly worked at RCDS and said they bring in authors, which prompted me to contact RCDS, and one kind word led to another, and a booking. Thank you all!

After, to complete the comic-book-themed day, I went to what might be one of the most famous comic book shops in America, Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash, owned by maverick filmmaker and comic book writer Kevin Smith:


Student question of the visit: “Did any of your childhood friends also become authors?”

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Nonfiction = smarties

"Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show that students who receive more non-fiction instruction have higher levels of literacy." 
 —Moss, B. & Newton, E. 'An Examination of the Informational Text Genre in Basal Readers.' Reading Psychology, 2002.

"Children in New York City who learned to read using an experimental curriculum that emphasized nonfiction texts outperformed those at other schools..."
—"Nonfiction Curriculum Enhanced Reading Skills, Study Finds," New York Times, 3/11/12

From the same article:

Reading nonfiction writing is the key component of the Core Knowledge curriculum, which is based on the theory that children raised reading storybooks will lack the necessary background and vocabulary to understand history and science texts. While the curriculum allows children to read fiction, it also calls on them to knowledgeably discuss weather patterns, the solar system, and how ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia compare.

The curriculum may have a particular appeal for city schools beginning to adopt the Common Core standards, which emphasize nonfiction reading and will go into effect in 2014.

Monday, April 23, 2012

I thought Pennsylvania's steel town was Pittsburgh...

...yet my friend recently spotted Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman in Philadelphia, at the National Museum of American Jewish History.


That "Hava Nagila" book looks fascinating.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Phase out this phrase

There is a phrase that I wish would cease to appear in picture books. (Okay, there are two. One is “There is…”)

The other phrase is so common that it probably goes unnoticed by most readers.

That phrase is “Then it happened” (or variations of it, such as “That’s when it happened,” etc.).

Even some otherwise charming books employ the phrase. Here are examples from Hunter's Big Sister by Laura Malone Elliott and The Only Boy in Ballet Class by my old friend Denise Gruska (this is The Only Phrase in the Book I'm critiquing, Denise!):



I know I've encountered other instances but they're not coming to mind; as I come across them, I will revisit this post to insert them.

I understand why the phrase is used. When a story contains a sudden shift in action, a writer feels he must set that up. Summoning a “then it happened” comes so naturally, it’s practically punctuation.

But I feel it is a weak segue, a hollow way to propel the reader to an exciting event in the next sentence. Why not just get to the good part?

“There is” (and its variations, such as “There are”) can always and easily be rewritten in a stronger way: “There is a baby duck waddling around on my front step” is more muscular as “A baby duck is waddling around on my front step.”

Similarly, “then it happened” can always be rewritten or often simply removed; as proof, reread the above passages but leave out the phrase. Missing anything? I don't think you will.

I feel writers have an obligation to entice readers not with familiar (and therefore empty) phrases but with original expressions that convey excitement through concrete action.


This concludes today’s Nitpicking 101 lesson. Your homework: post something nitpick-y about one of my books. Education never dies.

5/24/12 addendum: Found it in another book I love, Dad, Jackie, and Me.


1/2/13 addendum: And another, Puff, the Magic Dragon (though I fear quibbling with a classic).


12/13/13 addendum: From Henry’s Hand, a charming book by my Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman illustrator and all-around good guy Ross MacDonald:



Friday, April 20, 2012

A preview of "Previews"

Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman is a Featured Item in the May 2012 Previews, the catalog of upcoming releases distributed in comics shops nationwide. Previews goes on sale the last Wednesday in April but you saw it here first:


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Undercover author

The 2/22/12 New York Times exposed author Kate Alcott’s secret identity.

She is really author Patricia O’Brien.

See, O’Brien was shopping around her sixth novel (and ninth book overall). Her longtime Simon & Schuster editor, among 12 others, turned it down.  

The reason? Hazard a guess:

a) limp prose
b) unoriginal plot
c) her last novel didn’t sell enough
d) O’Brien is a raving wacknut

The answer is c), for “come on.”

But that is largely the state of publishing today—publishers pressured to go for saleability over originality, lyricism, or other merit.

So O’Brien went and proved this thinking shortsighted. And to do so, she took what I perceive to be a big risk, one that could have sabotaged her credibility (and one that reminds me of an experiment I did to try to sell a nonfiction picture book I wrote about a little-known WWII incident involving a Japanese pilot).

She resolicited the manuscript under a pen name, Kate Alcott.

And it sold in three days.

Read the rest of what I feel is an important story here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Beethoven-Justin Bieber duet

In between my presentations at a Georgia school, the librarians were admitting frustration when kids ask for books about famous entertainers or sports stars of the moment. Some school and library market publishers produce such lightweight biographies because those books might attract a student who is otherwise not a motivated reader. And most anyone in education would rather a young person read a celeb bio than nothing.

However, I understand their frustration when, in the very same room, there is so much actual literature—including biographies of people whose accomplishments are more significant, not to mention time-tested—to choose from.

I was struck with an idea. What about creating two-in-one biographies, one on a contemporary figure and one historic—perhaps both from a similar field? In a music-themed title, one half of the book could be about Beethoven and the other Justin Bieber. Kids who pick up the book for Bieber may stick around for Beethoven.

But it may be even more effective to avoid themes; in some cases, themes would be too limiting. Who from pop culture, for example, could be paired with Joan of Arc?

Completely random pairings might seem bizarre at first, but would likely have the biggest payoff:

  • Rosa Parks and Ryan Seacrest
  • Clara Barton and Taylor Swift
  • Harriet Tubman and Chris Colfer
  • Matthew Henson and Suzanne Collins
  • Thomas Jefferson and Shaun White
  • Jackie Robinson and Chlöe Grace Moretz
  • Alexander the Great and Jennifer Hudson
  • Nelson Mandela and Eric Stonestreet

Creating profoundly unlikely team-ups is huge fun. Try it!

This proposal echoes a strategy some parents employ when trying to expand kids’ food repertoires: sticking both a noodle and, say, a piece of broccoli on the fork at the same time—noodle first. To get to the noodle, the young person has to go through the broccoli—and hopefully s/he will find that s/he enjoyed doing it.

4/20/12 addendum: See first two comments below for an elaboration on this last paragraph; in short, I am not equating the “serious” figure with broccoli in a negative way; rather I am trying to show that both the serious figure and the broccoli are worth getting to, even if by a bit of trickery! I’m trying to break their respective stigmas.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Back-to-back talks: synagogue and library

On 4/15/12, I spoke at Congregation Beth El, a synagogue in Bethesda, MD, from 10 to 11:15 a.m. and Chinn Park Regional Library in Woodbridge, VA, from 2:15 to 3 p.m.

At Beth El, during the Q&A, a woman asked if my “spit curl” was in honor of Superman’s.

Mine:


Superman’s:


I said no, though it would be a sight if I could somehow position what I hadnt realized was a spit curl into the shape of an N…






Special thanks to and photographs above © Mitchell Solkowitz.

When I left for Chinn Park, the GPS said I’d arrive at 1:43 p.m. Due to unforeseen traffic on both the original and detour routes, I did not arrive until 2:15 p.m. Of course I called from the car to alert them to the situation, and also turned on my laptop and queued up the presentation start slide so I could run in with the netbook, plug it in, and go. (Of course I fiddled with the laptop only when stopped in traffic—which was most of the trip.)

In the final minutes before my arrival, sporting gritted teeth, I’d prepared an opening apology line: “Superheroes always arrive in the nick of time. Now we know that authors, unfortunately, do not.” But once I saw that the turnout was much bigger than I was expecting, I debated changing my line to this: “Now I know why I was late. I’m assuming all of you were the traffic that was in front of me.”

In fact, this was possibly the biggest turnout I’ve ever had at a library—standing room only, and not a small room. I was heartened that the audience hadn’t bailed because I was late—or because it was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. When I finally did get there, a few kind souls told me before I began speaking that such traffic is a regular occurrence in that particular corridor. It did make me feel better.


Two previous photos courtesy of KimSu Beauregard

Among the many kind people I was fortunate to meet at the library was a precious first grader who has been battling (and kicking the tail of) leukemia. She was a hug magnet. Another was the voice of Joker’s girlfriend Harley Quinn for DC Comics audio books.


Traffic going home, mercifully, was easy like Sunday afternoon.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Batman of 1932

Smarticulate Massachusetts man Frank D. Foster III believes Bob Kane and/or Bill Finger may have stolen the idea for Batman from his father (who passed away in 1995). Yes, Foster II created a hero whom he named Batman in 1932—seven years before the Batman you know first appeared.

Here he is:


Foster II (hereafter referred to simply as “Foster”) shopped his Batman around to publishers, but got no takers. Foster III (hereafter referred to as “Frank”) feels it is not a coincidence that Finger and Kane’s Batman came out later that decade.

I love Frank’s conviction, and his intriguing claim is certainly worthy of investigation, but for many reasons (all of which I’ve detailed for Frank), I’m convinced that his father’s character had nothing to do with the Finger/Kane Batman.

I think it is highly unlikely that Foster crossed paths with Kane and Finger, at least not with regard to Foster’s drawings. Both Finger and Kane were in high school in 1932. Finger was not involved with comics till 1938. Writers/artists were not necessarily hanging around the publishers' offices, decreasing chances of such an encounter. It’s virtually impossible that Finger in particular could’ve seen Foster’s drawings—upon Batman’s debut in 1939, Finger was an anonymous work-for-hire Kane writer that even the publisher of Batman wouldn’t know about for at least another year.

When Foster created his character in 1932, the first “official” comic book was still three years away. A publisher that passed on a submission in 1932 would almost certainly not save it till 1939—they barely saved art of comics they actually published.

Comparing dates of creation is not conclusive of theft; multiple people have similar ideas all the time. Even if Frank were to prove that his father did submit the character to a company that Kane or Finger had an association with at some point would not be conclusive by a long shot.

Every character is a distillation of characters that have come before; Batman had elements of Zorro, who had elements of the Scarlet Pimpernel, who had elements of Robin Hood...and so on back. It’s hard to argue that any one character is “unique.” At the time, numerous characters in movies and pulps already had a bat motif—Finger and Kane openly cited as one of their influences a 1930 movie called The Bat Whispers. Other people we may never know about might also have created a character called Batman pre-1939!

The bat motif was not the only trait of Foster’s character with precedent—earlier crime fighters were also non-powered and/or associated with the night, such as Zorro and the Shadow (debuted 1930), plus others who debuted later in the 1930s including the Phantom and the Crimson Avenger. The resemblance between Foster’s character and Kane/Finger's is not striking enough, in my opinion—lots of characters had masks of various kinds.

It is interesting that Foster named other ultimately unpublished characters Nightwing and Raven; DC's Nightwing and Raven did not come till the 1980s, so there was almost certainly no correlation. It’s hardly even a coincidence. Just about every animal besides the donkey has been the name of a character at one point, so Raven is not surprising; as for Nightwing, take a look at this partial list of Golden Age character names. The same words were used over and over in slightly different ways. Names alone don't mean much, which is why you can't copyright them.

Finger freely admitted that the idea to make Batman’s eyes mere slits came from the Phantom, so if the influence had been another source instead, I suspect he would have just as easily admitted that.

It is well-documented that Kane swiped other artists’ poses, so if he had seen Foster’s drawings, why didn’t he use those elements in his (Kane’s) first drawing of Batman? Besides, both Kane and Finger said the key costume elements came from Finger. And again, if Kane had been the one to come up with the look, he would have shouted it from the rooftops. (He took credit for plenty he didn’t do, so he most assuredly took credit for what little he did do.)

I am not usually one to defend Kane, but the timeline and logistics just don’t add up. Kane was a pirate—just not in this instance.

I accept the authenticity of Foster’s drawings. I accept that they came before Kane/Finger’s character. I even accept the possibility that Kane or Finger somehow saw Foster’s drawings somewhere along the way. However, as noted above, I feel the chance of that is slimmer than Batman’s eye slits.

So without written, contemporaneous proof, I believe this was a simple case of multiple creative young men hatching a marginally similar idea in the same city within a few years of each other. Happens all the time. Happening right now, somewhere. That does not, however, increase the likelihood that there was any impropriety over intellectual property.

From an aesthetic and historic perspective, I am glad Frank has shared his father’s work with the world. It is fascinating in its own right.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Martha's Vineyard Children's Book Festival

Like to read? Shore you do!

The first annual
Martha’s Vineyard
Children’s Book Festival


It will give new meaning to “beach reading.”

20 award-winning, untanned authors and illustrators
6 schools
1 billion grains of sand
1 historic day…



THE CO-SPONSORS: 

Local Bookstore(s)
Corporate Contributor(s) *
and/or
Generous Patron(s)


THE AUTHORS AND ILLUSTRATORS:


TBD. But awesome ones.

THE SCHEDULE:

Chapter 1—School Visit Round Robin

What it is: three back-to-back author presentations per school:

8:30 a.m. author 1
10:00 a.m. author 2
11:30 p.m. author 3
12:45 p.m. lunch with authors (perhaps a select group of writing-focused students who applied/were chosen in advance)

Chapter 2—Beach Book Bonanza

What it is: an open-to-the-public afternoon of book-themed fun on the beach, including continuous book signings and the following activities (with more possibilities below at **):

2:00 p.m. sand character building contest (forget sand castles—kids make a sand sculpture of their favorite children’s book character; authors are judges)
3:00 p.m. kids vs. authors beach volleyball
4:00 p.m. aerial photograph (kids positioned to spell out “I’m Needing Beach Reading” or similar)

Prizes for all winners (hint: prizes are not waterproof).
Advanced sign-up and parent on site required for all beach events.
Other spectators encouraged!
In event of rain, alternate yet equally fun activities and indoor location to be announced.

Chapter 3—Sunset Panels and Performances

What it is: family picnic on the beach while listening to humorous, helpful, and unpredictable author panel discussions moderated by Local Celeb TBD, followed by an unprecedented, all-author variety show:

5:30 p.m. author panel 1
6:00 p.m. author panel 2
6:30 p.m. author panel 3

Panels can be themed or random. Themes can be straightforward (Funny Picture Books, Real Life Thrills, Debut Authors) or silly (Bald or Balding Authors, Do Talking Animals Need Clothes?, Books in Space).

7:00 p.m. “America’s Got Authors”—the authors team up and perform skits and songs based on their books; warning: audience volunteers may be called on at random!
8:30 p.m. book signings
9:30 p.m. tuck authors in

THE DIFFERENCE:

What makes this book festival one-of-a-kind?

  • first-ever children’s book festival on Martha’s Vineyard
  • possibly first-ever book festival on a beach?
  • co-created by authors who have been to multiple festivals nationwide and have seen what works and what doesn’t
  • authors sign and speak as usual, but also have a more interactive role throughout the day—including opportunities to step outside their author roles
  • diverse schedule includes both enrichment for every public school on the island and programming for the public
  • unconventional events such as kids vs. authors volleyball and author variety show likely to attract mainstream press

THE REST:

* among the corporate sponsors to pursue:

Six Flags (they run a summer reading campaign)
Vineyard Vines
Whole Foods
Stonyfield Farm
Ben & Jerry’s (maybe they’d even make a special flavor for the occasion such as Kidlit Choclit or Bookberry Muffin, only far more clever)
Melissa & Doug
 
New England Patriots
Boston Red Sox
Read Kiddo Read
Nickelodeon
Scholastic
Blackboard
Life Is Good
Bright Horizons
Staples
BJ's Wholesale Club
Cape Cod Chips
Children’s Hospital Boston
Stride Rite
New Balance

Edutopia (a George Lucas company)
Domtar
other literacy-minded companies, particularly ones based in MA

** other possible activities:

  • summer snowball fight (would require storing snowballs from winter in freezers and bringing them to beach in coolers; takes effort but huge payoff)
  • kids vs. authors tug of peace
  • print books vs. e-books reading race
  • dunk an author booth (for charity?)
  • shoreline scavenger hunt (find items related to the authors’ books)
  • summer-themed quiz bowl on children’s books
  • get photo taken in scenes from favorite books (those painted lifesized scenes with a hole where you stick your face); or maybe kids can design and paint their own?
  • something green, i.e. cleaning up a beach, but must also relate to books somehow

If you are a possible Corporate Contributor or Generous Patron who wants to be part of the next generation of book festivals, I look forward to hearing from you.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

For whom the road tolls...a public service announcement

Several weeks after returning from a week of presentations in the Seattle area, I received a bill from PlatePass, a “service” from Hertz, the car rental company I used.


The total: $19.05.

The charge: using a “cashless toll road” a single time.

(By “cashless” they mean there is no option to stop and pay while on the road itself.)

In trying to sort this out, I called PlatePlass, then Hertz. Regarding the latter, the wait time for a human being (around 20 minutes) was absurd for a company of its size. The difficulty in reaching a human being who could actually take action rather than read from a manual was also absurd.

The toll charge was $4.30. The remaining amount was the administrative fee—$2.95 per day for each day of the rental, regardless of whether or not you used any cashless toll roads each day. As I said, I apparently drove on one only once.

One person at Hertz told me that PlatePass is a division of Hertz; another said that’s not the case. One person at Hertz told me that Hertz is the only car rental company that uses PlatePass; another said that’s not the case. All were definitive in their tone.

In any case, the situation was annoying and, I’d say, deceptive.

I prepaid the car rental. At the pickup counter, the Hertz staffer devoted the usual two minutes in trying to sell me insurance, gas refill, and GPS, but did not bother to mention PlatePass. So I did not agree to it. I did not even know it existed.

What if Hertz had told me about PlatePass up front? If I’d refused it and traveled a cashless toll road, I would have been hit with a much higher charge. But otherwise, at least I would then have known that cashless toll roads were in the vicinity and I could’ve planned my routes accordingly.

I’m from the Northeast. I have E-ZPass and I take my tag whenever traveling to an area that accepts it. But I’ve been all over the country and have never encountered a toll road with no toll booth of any kind.

It’s an efficient idea—as long as you know about it in advance.

So let this be a warning. I’m told that, as of this writing, five states use PlatePlass:

  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • North Carolina
  • Texas
  • Washington 

When renting a car in any of those states, ask at the rental car counter where the cashless toll roads are.

Upon reading accounts like this, in which Hertz refunded hoodwinked and exploited customers the per-day charge for every day but the days they actually used a cashless toll road, I am astounded that Hertz still has not adjusted their regimen. If they’d simply explain PlatePass at the time of rental, so many fewer customers would be disgruntled—and so many fewer Hertz employees would have to deal with the aftermath of a manipulative “service.”

Friday, April 13, 2012

Largest earthquake drill in U.S. history



On 10/20/11, Guam held the Great Guam ShakeOut, the largest earthquake drill in U.S. history. I just so happened to be on the island at the time, and just so happened to film it, and just so happened to get permission to post it here:



It called to mind one of my all-time favorite magazine covers, from 1995, though the location it references is far from Guam:


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The $130 check that bought Superman

It’s painful for many to learn that, in 1937, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster sold all rights to Superman for $130.

On another level, it's also painful to learn that the historic check from that deal is now up for auction…and bidding is currently north of $45,000 with almost a week more to go.

Yes, even the slip of paper that bought Superman is worth more than the original cost of Superman himself.

front

back

In any case, it’s astounding that this check has survived. Here’s an excerpt from the item description on the auction site:


Knowing that the check would have historical relevance, [a] D.C. employee salvaged it [in 1973, when it was among various documents to be discarded]. For the next 38 years it was kept safe in a dresser drawer...until now.

This March 1, 1938 Detective Comics check, signed by Jack Liebowitz, is made payable to Jerome Seigel and Joe Schuster. (You would think that DC would have spelled Siegel and Shuster's name correctly for a character as important as Superman!) The check, in the amount of $412, includes an account of items being paid for. At the very top is "Superman $130."


The year the check was nearly tossed, 1973, marked the start of a string of events that show that the era of bestowing comics cultural significance had not yet begun:


But this mainstream ignorance of the historic (not to mention artistic) value of comics was about to do an about-face.

  • In 1978, Superman: The Movie came out and did gangbusters, setting in motion the love affair with superhero movies that Hollywood engages in today more than ever.
  • Finger began to more “formally” receive the recognition he was tragically denied in his lifetime. This included long-overdue acknowledgment by Bob Kane (in his 1989 autobiography) and "partial credit" in books and comics published by DC Comics; it will culminate in my book Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.
  • The site where Joe’s apartment building stood is now commemorated, though nothing, of course, can bring the historic structure back.
  • Thanks in large part to the Internet, fandom is now able to proclaim as more of a united front that Siegel, Shuster, Finger, and others of their era were mistreated. Whether such popular opinion will have any real-world effect is always a wild card, but a welcome one.

Put another way, 1973 was just shy of the enlightened era we are still in.

Transaction that launched both the comic book industry and the superhero genre nearly thrown out?
Co-creator of Batman dies with virtually no public notice? Apartment building in which Superman first drawn torn down? None of these travesties would happen today—at least not without big-time backlash among fans.

4/16/12 addendum: At 56 bids, the check sold for $160,000.

Monday, April 9, 2012

It is now PHYSICALLY a book

Look what appeared on my front step last week:


Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, meet your brother, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman:


For all the positives of e-publishing, I imagine “first appearance” (not to mention release) days will not be as exciting when the product is only pixelated rather than printed. For all the work I put into this project, part of the proof is something I can hold and page through and stack and, yes, smell in unique form.


The world may be going digital faster than most in the book business want to admit, and I’m coming to terms with that, but for now I’m also grateful that this book made it out in B.C.E. (Before Computer Everything).

How can opening an e-mail with a link compare with opening that box whose return address contains the word “warehouse?”

The only part of the book interior I will sneak preview at this stage is its DNA (AKA acknowledgments):


Thank you all again, for Bill’s sake.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Scouting Wayne Manor

I’m making a book trailer for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman. We’ve shot for a day and have the next (hopefully last) shoot date on the calendar. For that, I needed to try my hand at location scouting. For that shoot, we need a distinctive background.

We need Wayne Manor.

For those of you not wearing a Two-Face T-shirt or not awaiting your order of the complete series of Birds of Prey on DVD, allow me to explain:

Wayne Manor is the home of Bruce Wayne.

Bruce Wayne is the secret identity of Batman.

I gave myself an hour to find my mansion. I ended up with at least five candidates:





But I didn’t know who lived at any of those addresses. So I did a reverse-address search, found names (though still didn’t know if they were current), and sent letters to each asking if my crew and me (read: my friend and me) could shoot outside their front gate for about 15 minutes one evening at dusk.

Only one responded—but as luck has it, my favorite one.

Guess which?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Google doodle: Bill Finger

As anyone with a computer knows, Google is one of those rare brands willing to vary its logo. They have tweaked it to pay tribute to everyone and everything from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry to Pac-Man.


So on 3/27/12, I pitched them (proposals@google.com) this:

You'd be lavished with undying praise by legions of geeks everywhere if you did a doodle in honor of writer Bill Finger (2/8/14 - 1/18/74), the uncredited co-creator (and, objectively, dominant creative force) behind Batman, even though cartoonist Bob Kane unconscionably took all the credit. Bill is widely considered to be the greatest comics writer of his generation (the Golden Age)...and the biggest martyr in comics history.

Bill died alone, poor, and unrecognized (no obituary, no funeral). I wrote a book on him to help preserve his culturally significant legacy.

While we are too late for this year's birth and death anniversaries, I think a date that would make an even bigger statement would be July 20—the date The Dark Knight Rises, the next Batman movie, comes out. It would be poignantly appropriate since it was Bill who first called Batman the "Dark Knight" back in Batman #1 in 1940...yet Bill’s name will not be in the film credits...

To be continued…I hope.

I'm feeling lucky.

12/9/13 addendum: I have since proposed this again, now emphasizing that 2014 is a triple Batman anniversary:

  • 75th anniversary of Batman
  • 100th anniversary of birth of Bill Finger
  • 40th anniversary of death of Bill Finger

Please show your support for this idea by emailing proposals@google.com.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Bob Kane model

On 3/4/12, at the Whidbey Island Writers Conference in Washington State, I had the pleasure of sharing a panel with, among others, agent Katharine Sands.

Not breaking with tradition, I mentioned Bill Finger and Batman. After the panel, Katharine told me that her late mother had once posed for Batman cartoonist Bob Kane—and she had a photo of it.

I felt I’d already seen that photo. The image that came to my mind was this, from the 1960s, which has been published in a book or two:

I even saw a resemblance between the model in my mind and Katharine. I pulled up the photo to show her. But that (Cat)woman, she said, was not her mom. This was her mom (and I'd estimate the photo to be from the 1950s):

I asked Katharine if she has any stories to accompany it. Her response:

“I do not believe he chased her around the divan—but Mom turned out to be a major liar about this kind of thing when I found her journal after she died. Shhheeeshhh…”

Monday, April 2, 2012

Put a Finger on it!

Last summer I created T-shirts to help build buzz for my July 2012 picture book on Bill Finger and his role in the creation of Batman:


So when I saw this van recently, I knew my grassroots campaign had taken off:


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