Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fairy fame

Don't be fooled by lists. Fairies are always the favorites.

Vanity Fair 3/12

Entertainment Weekly 2011

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

More photos from San Diego Comic-Con

Revealing that a paperweight shown in the book is not a made-up detail, 7/12/12.

You may have read about this before.

Clumsily revealing what my shirt says.

co-panelist Larry Tye, panel moderator Mark Evanier, me, 7/13/12

All photos courtesy of Kendall Whitehouse, Director, New Media, Wharton Marketing and Communications.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Public speaking as a research tool

Research is time-consuming with no guarantee of yielding anything useful. So it is actually not completely impractical to suggest speaking as a research tool.

I’ve been speaking about Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman (AKA Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster) for almost four years at venues ranging from synagogues to business luncheons; I’m now including Bill Finger in my presentations.

A number of people from audiences I’ve spoken to have come up to me afterward to share a connection they had to Jerry (1914-1996), Joe (1914-1992), or Bill (1914-1974). It’s not a massive tally but given the number of generations back we’re talking, it astounds me.

Examples:

  • Washington DC, November 2011—a woman whose grandfather worked in the same building as Joe Shuster’s art studio in the 1940s
  • Miami, February 2012—a man whose sister dated Joe Shuster in the 1970s
  • New York, June 2012—a woman who was best friends with the daughter of Bill Finger’s second wife in middle school in the 1960s (have to come up for air on that one)

I did not note at least one or two others who overlapped with Siegel and Shuster at Glenville High School in the early 1930s.

People like this are so peripherally linked to the superhero creators that even the most tenacious writers/researchers may never turn them up on their own.

The more I speak, the more I will likely continue to overlap with people who hobnobbed with comics royalty. And the more people I reach, the more likely I can uncover something no one else would have. We never know where or when the next previously unpublished story or photo will come from…except that it is almost never where you expect it to be.

I did ask all three above if they had relevant photos or other mementos; some believe they do, and if they end up sharing any of it with me as they said they would, I will be posting that material here.

Both of my superhero books are already out there, but as you can see, I’m still adding to the story.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Audience folk who knew the Boys of Steel and the Boy Wonder

After many talks I’ve given on Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman and, as of recently, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, someone comes up to me to share a connection s/he or someone s/he knows had to the Superman or Batman creators. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • the man whose relative lived across the street from Jerry Siegel (talk: Bethesda, 4/12)
  • the man whose sister dated Joe Shuster in the 1970s (and still has some letters he wrote) (Miami, 2/12)
  • the woman whose grandfather worked in the same building that housed Joe’s studio (Washington DC, 11/11)
  • the woman whose father was a paperboy for Jerry Siegel and/or Joe Shuster (New York, 6/13)
  • the woman who, in 7th grade, was best friends with the daughter of Bill Finger’s second wife (New York, 6/12)
  • the woman whose mom modeled for Bob Kane (Whidbey Island/Seattle, 3/12)
  • the woman (Sidra Rausch) who co-created superheroine manga musical Astra with Jerry Robinson (Washington DC, 10/12)

...not to mention...

  • the boy who claimed he found a copy of the most valuable comic book in history (Providence, 4/10)
  • the woman whose father-in-law was once married to Joe Shuster’s sister Jean (and who inherited letters Jean wrote, some of which mention Joe) (e-mail)
  • the man whose father was a photographer for Stars and Stripes and who e-mailed me WWII photos featuring Jerry Siegel

And at least one woman who knew someone who was allegedly an inspiration for Lois Lane.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The only two surviving letters Bill Finger wrote

In my research for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, I dug deep and discovered quite a bit that had not been published before. One of the most rewarding finds was personal correspondence—the only known examples of surviving letters written by Bill Finger.

There are two, both from 1965. They were discovered in the Vermont home of longtime fan Tom Fagan, who passed away in 2008; a friend of Tom’s kindly mailed me copies. When I first saw the letters, everything quickened. It is understated to describe them as highlights of my research odyssey.

Besides the simple fact that they exist, they are significant because they reveal sides of Bill’s personality that none of his (few) comics-related interviews did.

The first letter (whose postmark, not shown here, is 8/19/65) starts with a doozy: in rattling off his interests, Bill cheekily repeats “dating women.” The last line of the letter is endearing and humanizing, and also shows that the phrase “give me a buzz,” which I would’ve assumed dated from the 1970s if not later, actually existed in the 1960s. Who knows—maybe Bill came up with that piece of pop culture, too?

The second letter, dated 10/17/65, strikes a more solemn tone because it came in the aftermath of Bob Kane’s scathing letter for Batmania in which he refutes Bill’s recent admission that he (Bill) was involved with the creation of Batman.

Bill wrote that he had to keep it short so he could make it to the post office before it closed, but 10/17/65 was a Sunday. It was so hastily written that Bill did not sign it.

But the letter’s greatest significance is in the line “I quite angrily spoke my mind and jogged Bob’s fading memory.” As I mention in the Author’s Note, this is the most spine we have seen from Bill and, in fact, is the only known textual evidence in which Bill stood up for himself.

The poignant last line also made it into my book…as the last line there, too. It’s heartbreaking in its graciousness. Imagine the bitterness it could have been masking.

Here are both letters:



Monday, August 20, 2012

Interest in seeing Bill Finger in film credits

The day The Dark Knight Rises premiered, I revealed how Bill Finger’s second wife (and, almost 20 years later, I) tried to get Bill’s name into the movie credits.

I was thrilled that so many sites picked up on what I feel is a particularly curious and timely story, among them:


With this kind of coverage, the time may come when someone at DC Entertainment finds it is within legal bounds to name-drop Bill in some capacity in the credits of a forthcoming film.

I know...things have to happen first. But in the meantime, I am humbled to share a line from an email I received from a member of Bill’s extended family: “It looks like you have made a difference; Bill’s legacy is becoming more mainstream with each passing day.”


Later post with similar bent.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bill Finger's alma mater newsletter

Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman made the newsletter of the prestigious high school from which Bill graduated in 1933, DeWitt Clinton in the Bronx.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

The “Bill the Boy Wonder” font: chosen with care

The interior text font of Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman is Aldine 401 by Bitstream.

The book’s designer, Martha MacLeod Sikkema, told me that it was chosen “to give the page a period newspaper look, to match the dark post-Depression tone of the story. FontShop says it was designed by A. Tagliente and Francesco Griffo in 1929.”


Friday, August 17, 2012

Tracking down a childhood record

One of the challenges of Internet research is looking for something whose name you don’t know.

As a kid in the 1970s, my sister and I loved a record of songs about animals. It was long gone from my family when I tried to find it again. I wasn’t sure what it was called but I remembered that it included covers of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and “Rockin’ Robin.” I particularly liked a song called “Come to My Farm”; having never heard it elsewhere, I presumed it was an original. So that was where my 2007 search began, and where any search should begin: with the most specific information you have.

But a Google and an eBay didn’t find trace of the song or the record. (Even five years later, a Google still doesn’t turn it up unless you hit upon a special combination of keywords. Obscurity now!)

My next tactic was to take advantage of one of the greatest assets of the Internet, an asset so simple that many seem to overlook it: asking people. Never before have we had almost instant access to anyone who is not an A-list celeb (and even some of those are reachable on Twitter).


Looking to prove (or debunk) a recurring rumor about the Nazis? E-mail professors of German history.

Looking for descendents of a deceased person you’re writing about? Poke around on Facebook (unless the last name is common).

Looking for a non-famous record you loved three decades ago? Contact everyone you can find online who collects kiddie records.

This kind of outreach takes only minutes. It’s free to e-mail, of course. And you can ask as many people as you want at the same time at no cost and with no diminishing returns. Chances are you’ll find someone who knows, or someone who knows someone who knows, pretty quickly.

As I did.

So now I (and my sister) may be the only people in the world with "Come to My Farm" on our iPods.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

WIRED GeekDad on “Bill the Boy Wonder”: “buy this book”



“Readers…will be fascinated to read the author’s note for its story of how Nobleman tracked down the various surviving members of Finger’s family, including finding that his proper heir was not the person DC thought it was. So the book has already corrected that injustice; we can only hope it leads to more public awareness of Finger’s involvement and thus corrects another. … Buy this book; it’s a great read.”

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

BillFinger.com

On a lark, I checked BillFinger.com, expecting it to be “domain not found.”

Yet it was found, found to redirect to Tales of Wonder (talesofwonder.com), a Georgia company that is “one of the largest direct market retailers of trade paperbacks, hardcover books, and merchandise related to the comic book industry.”

Tales of Wonder's Andy Eaton explained: We registered BillFinger.com because we carry classic collections of his work. I suppose the kind of person who would know his name is our kind of customer.

Hopefully they will have a whole new batch of customers now:

Andy went on to say “We have other classic creators registered with us, but it's early and I'm going to take a pass on looking them up.” (I tried Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko...none worked.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"Call Bill Finger" (to the tune of "Call Me Maybe")

One of the catchiest songs of 2012 is "Call Me Maybe."

One of the blockbusteriest movies of 2012 is The Dark Knight Rises.

Perhaps it was inevitable that these two pop culture juggernauts would come together somehow. (After all, we've already seen a Superman/Justin Bieber mashup.)

But the Batman/Jepsen fusion is almost certainly not in a way you would expect:

The "Call Bill Finger" lyrics below are about the co-creator of the Dark Knight and set to the tune of "Call Me Maybe." If you don't know what some of lyrics mean, the answers are easily found in Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.

And after the lyrics, you will see how they could help you win something cool for your school...

Click play, scroll down, and sing those lyrics over Carly's:



"Call Bill Finger"


Superman was a big hit

Red undies, cape, really fit
Bob Kane thought he could do it
So he went home to draw

Bob’s hero—hungry for fame
Red suit, stiff wings, really lame
Well, all except for his name
There was promise in that

He needed someone
Who could make it more fun
Ideas second to none
Where you think he’d find this zinger?

That’s when it struck him
To fix his Batman
No need to worry
Just call Bill Finger

It’s hard to look right
At Bob’s version
But help is in sight
Just call Bill Finger

That’s when it struck him
To fix his Batman
Just point a finger
Right at Bill Finger

And all of Bob’s design
Did not last long
And this was because
He called Bill Finger

Bob took Batman and dropped by
A comics editor guy
Who thought this Batman would fly
But Bill was in the way

Bob chose to lie and to steal
So he could cut a deal
Did he think how Bill would feel
Left out in this way?

Bob went back to Bill’s
Knowing he had mad skills
To write tales with big thrills
Bill was writer, Bob was ringer

Bob took all credit
And kept a secret
No Batman stories
Showed sign of Finger

It’s hard to believe
Bob could do this
He pushed his partner
Into the wringer

Bob took all credit
And kept a secret
No Batman stories
Showed sign of Finger

And for a bunch of years
This continued
But one day fans learned
About Bill Finger

They thought injustice had occurred
And they felt so bad
And they felt so bad
And they felt so, so bad

They wanted Bill’s name on Batman
Wanted it so bad
And you should know that
They became so, so mad

It’s hard to look right
At Bob Kane, yeah
But here’s his picture
So try it maybe?

Hey, I just wondered
And this is crazy
If there’s a way to
Change Bill’s legacy

And all the many times
Bill’s been mentioned
Means it is time for
A big correction

Because Bill came into Bob’s life
We now have Batman
We now have Robin
We have so much to love

All Batman stories that you see
Are missing something
Bill’s name should be there

Hey, one day maybe…


Lyrics without music is like Batman without Robin.

So the challenge is yours. You can win a $100 discount off an author visit at your school simply by doing this:

  1. Film you and your friends (at least four people total) singing this song in a creative way. Be original! Be safe! Make us laugh! Make us cry!
  2. Upload the video to YouTube. If you are kids, you must get parental permission first. Must.
  3. Title the video "Call Bill Finger" ("Call Me Maybe"). This is also a must.
  4. Post the link to the video and your location (state only) in the comments section of this post. Do not include your name(s).
  5. I need to be able to contact any winner(s), so a parent (not you!) must email me at mtnobleman at gmail.com; that email should also include the YouTube link so I know who is who.

Notes:


  • Recording does not have to take place on school grounds or on school time. As long as all students in your video go to the same school and have parental permission, it counts.
  • To be eligible to win, you must sing the complete song.
  • Rehearse before filming. Each line in my version has the same number of syllables as in the original, but you will still need to find the right rhythm for certain lines.
  • The main factor in determining who gets the discount is originality.
  • There may be more than one winner, depending on my schedule.
  • Offer may end without notice.
  • Have fun saving money for your school!

Monday, August 13, 2012

"All Things Considered" covers All Things Bill Finger

In May, I pitched Guy Raz, weekend host of All Things Considered (one of NPR's signature shows), a segment on Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman. He said he had not received the copy of the book we had sent. He said they book three months in advance and do not book many books. He said sorry, but no.

On 8/8/12, armed with recent coverage from Forbes, Washington Post, and MTV, among others, I pitched Guy again. He kindly said call me, and during the call he said he would try to get me on. (He still had not seen the book.) The next day I hand-delivered a copy at the NPR office in Washington DC (by freakish chance I was already going to be across the street), at which time he said he thought it would work out. Later that day I heard from his producer. The day after, at 10 a.m., I was in the studio recording my interview.

This is what I said.


Huge thanks again to Guy and his gracious producer Walter Ray Watson.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

"How to Be a Baby by Me, the Big Sister"

This is emphatically not a Batman or Superman or even nonfiction post.

Rather it is a letter of recommendation for the 2007 picture book How to Be a Baby by Me, the Big Sister (and Sally Lloyd-Jones and Sue Heap).

The book nails the voice of a girl who is approximately six years old as she schools her baby brother in the ways of the world as she knows it. My favorite lines (emphases hers):

When you’re a baby, it’s not good because you don’t have any hair.

You sing songs, but you don’t know the words. Or the tune. (I know the words and the tune AND THE DANCE.)

People have to carry you EVERYWHERE. (This is you being carried EVERYWHERE.)

Here’s What Else You Can’t Do [list culminating with “Actually anything really fun”]

Here’s What Else You Are Scared Of [list culminating with “Actually lots of not-scary things at all”]

And a special plug goes in your mouth. It’s called a pacifier and it’s to stop your scream coming out.

And when you go in the car, you have to sit in a baby-holder with a handle on it. You don’t even face the right way. (I prefer to sit in a seat like a normal person.)

Here’s What Else You Do That’s Illegal [list whose title alone is hilarious and spot-on]

A whimsical read for anyone and especially, of course, anyone with a sibling (older or younger).

Saturday, August 11, 2012

My TED talk! On Bill Finger!

Sometimes a career highlight can be summed up in only three letters.

When I heard that TED, the prestigious conference devoted to “ideas worth spreading” in the areas of technology, entertainment, and design, was holding its first-ever talent search across the globe, I hastily submitted my one-minute video pitch on Bill Finger and the tragedy of superhero creators. (It ran a bit over, which would be the beginning of a pattern with me.)

That was in April. In late May, long past the time I thought decisions had been made, I got a surprising email. Of the hundreds who nominated themselves, I was one of 30 chosen to give a short TED talk in New York on June 7.

I travel the country (and, of late, the world) speaking to audiences of all kinds. I love doing it and I rarely get the jitters beforehand.

This was not the case with TED.

Perhaps only TED can make someone nervous about telling a story he has lived and breathed—and shaped and spoken on—for five years.

Part of the reason TED amplifies anxiety is obvious: it is on a world stage. But the biggest part of the reason is that the talks are timed…and you will be cut off.

Speakers could choose a talk length between two and six minutes, but TED said the shorter the better. I went with three minutes.

If there was no fixed time, and instead they’d simply said “Just give a short talk,” I would have been much more comfortable. But it was the fear of being cut short that threw me. So I prepared a talk that could be delivered in just under three minutes…if I didn’t screw up.

At rehearsal I screwed up.

But after, TED curator Chris Anderson and Director of Content Kelly Stoetzel graciously said that it would be okay if I ran a bit over now that they’d heard my approach. In other words, since they knew I would not run, say, three minutes over, I had the leeway to run 30 seconds over.

As for my screwing up, I am not making excuses…except for these two:

1) My afternoon rehearsal took place in the middle of Joe’s Pub in New York while what felt like 50 crew moved equipment around us frantically trying to get everything set up for the live event that evening.

2) I thought that the talk we prepared should be just a teaser since most TED talks I’ve seen are close to 20 minutes. I didn’t realize till the day of that we were expected to present a full, if succinct, talk. That last-minute recalibration also threw me a bit.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I knew one of the other speakers: writer Joshua Prager, who entered my field of vision with his riveting Wall Street Journal piece on what happened to the royalties for the classic picture book Goodnight Moon. (Go read it.) Josh was one of the evening’s highlights and I am going on record to say he will get invited to TED 2013.

Because that’s what this salon was about: finding new blood for the next Big One. A follow-up email from TED explained that fewer than 10% of TED speakers from this talent search would be so honored.




three photos above © TED; used under Creative Commons license

A TED tenet that I didn’t realize existed: ties are taboo for TED talks. Not outright banned but discouraged. At least two speakers who arrived in ties did not go on stage in them. TED = Ties Equal Dry.

My TED talk (which ended up running nearly a minute over):



Comments are being collected under the video of my talk on the TED (not YouTube) page, but only until 8/31/12, so please don’t delay in going there and letting them know if you think I would add something worthwhile to TED 2013 (with a more polished delivery, of course)!

I won’t screw up twice.

Friday, August 10, 2012

“The Thrilling Adventures of Superman” podcast

Thank you to Great Krypton! for inviting me to be a guest on the podcast and for allowing me ample time to rap about not only the Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman but also Bill Finger and even WWII pilot Nobuo Fujita. (He went up, up, and away, too.)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What did not make it into “Bill the Boy Wonder”...

…has been here all along.

When people ask me how long it took to write Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, I say several months’ of research and several months of writing on and off (18 drafts before Random House acquired it, and several more after). What catches people off guard is when I conclude by saying “And I’m still writing it.”

I explain that when I come across interesting information that, obviously, is too late for the book, I post it here. Here’s an example.

That is one of the biggest benefits of blogging and the Internet in general; it allows our stories to continue to unfold with no printers, warehouses, stores, or even paper needed.

Here are key Bill Finger posts that expand on the story I tell in Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman (and I will be adding to this):

Bill’s family:

my first Bill post, outlining my big discoveries, the biggest being Bill’s granddaughter; plus one of my 11 “new” photos of Bill (but the grainiest)

Bill’s parents

photo of Bill’s mom and one of my 11 “new” photos of Bill (with first wife Portia)

looking for Bill’s first sister

how I found Bill’s first sister, born in 1918 (and still alive as of this post)

how I found Bill’s second wife

finding some of Bill’s relatives

a Finger in Florida with something to hide

Bill’s friends:

how I found Bill’s longtime friend and writing partner Charles Sinclair

how I found the woman who hosted the Texas seder Bill attended

Bill in the words of those who knew him well 

Bill’s peers describing him in superlatives

Bill
s fans excited for a book about him

Bill’s residences:

photo of Bill’s apartment building at 731 Kelly Street, Bronx, where he lived in 1939, the year he co-created Batman (in fact, it may have been in that building!)

photo of Bill’s apartment building at 50 E. 196th Street, Bronx, where he lived 1941-42, during which time he wrote the first stories with Scarecrow, Penguin, and Two-Face

photo of Bill’s apartment building at 125 W. 16th Street, Manhattan, where he lived in the early 1950s, soon before his divorce from first wife Portia

photos of four more of Bill’s apartment buildings:
- 2754 Grand Concourse, Bronx, where he lived 1940-41, during which time he wrote the first stories with Robin, Joker, Catwoman, Batmobile, and Gotham City
- 45 Grove Street, Manhattan, where he lived for much of the 1940s, during which time he created the Riddler
- 31 W. 9th Street, Manhattan, circa 1965, and probably the apartment in which he was living when he first publicly admitted (to Jerry Bails) his role in the creation of Batman
- 340 E. 51st Street, Manhattan, the building in which Bill died in 1974

places Bill visited beyond New York City

other historical figures who had a connection to Bill’s 1940s Greenwich Village apartment

Bill and Batman:

first print appearance of Batman (and I don’t mean Detective Comics #27); timeline of my journey to research, write, and publish a book on Bill Finger

a dictionary is the reason I believe Batman was created in Bill’s, not Bob’s, apartment

why Bill most likely led the charge in creating Robin

Bill’s penchant for writing scripts featuring oversized props

Bob crediting Bill for some of the big villains, and Bill’s influence on the Joker’s look

which came first in 1965, Bill’s historic interview with Jerry Bails or his appearance on the first-ever creators panel at a comic convention?

the formerly lost interview Bill gave in 1965

the only two letters Bill wrote known to still exist 

Bill on whether or not Batman and Robin were gay

DC Comics (slyly) giving Bill Finger and Bob Kane equal claim to Batman

Bill almost received screen credit in Batman (1989)


Bill and comics:

Bill’s notable contributions to Superman

comparing Bill to Superman co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and likening them all to thieves

from the Mutual Admiration Society: Bill Finger and Alfred Hitchcock

Bill photos:

my first Bill post, outlining my big discoveries, the biggest being Bill’s granddaughter; plus one of my 11 “new” photos of Bill (but the grainiest)

photo of Bill’s mom and one of my 11 “new” photos of Bill (with first wife Portia)

Bill’s yearbook photo

four of the five known photos of Bill published before I began research


the first published photo of Bill’s first wife Portia, plus inheriting Bill’s scarab paperweight

happening upon a photo of Bill’s desk, circa 1940s

a previously unpublished photo of—and an injustice to—Bill in 75 Years of DC Comics

Bill mysteries:

looking for Bill’s first sister

how I found Bill’s first sister, born in 1918 (and still alive as of this post)

Bill’s yearbook photo

Bill was 4-F in World War II—here are the records to prove (though not explain) it


the formerly lost interview Bill gave in 1965

Bill and alcohol

Bill’s death

Bill mementos:

the first published photo of Bill’s first wife Portia, plus inheriting Bill’s scarab paperweight


finding out the true colors (literally) of the document revealing Bill’s involvement in the creation of Batman

Bill’s famous gimmick books were discarded

the only known note in Bill’s handwriting

the only two letters Bill wrote known to still exist
 

the only three comic book scripts Bill wrote known to still exist

the last two known comic book scripts Bill wrote

Bill insults:

Bill did not drive, plus the earliest hijacking in print of Bill’s Batman legacy

the laughable travesty of Real Fact Comics #5 (1946)

Bill’s worst enemy—Bob or himself?

a previously unpublished photo of—and an injustice to—Bill in 75 Years of DC Comics

Bill outside of comics:

Bill’s yearbook photo

Bill’s writing outside of comics

Bill’s radio

Bill’s favorite composer

Bill was 4-F in World War II—here are the records to prove (though not explain) it

Bill did not drive, plus the earliest hijacking in print of Bill’s Batman legacy

how Bill almost won a car (even though he didn’t have a driver’s license)

Bill worked out


Bill’s death

PLUS ONE:

birth anniversary posts:

2009 (the known Bill interviews, including two I helped rediscover)

2010 (Bill was born in Denver)

2012 (Bill identified as Batman co-creator in DC Comics publications)

2013 (tributes from YouTube and Tony Fleecs)

2014 (no Google doodle for Bills 100th birthday)

death anniversary posts:

2009 (no obituary, no funeral)

2010 (tribute from Amazing World of DC Comics #1)

2011 (Bob’s good choice)

2012 (revealing cover to Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman)

2013 (tributes from Entertainment Weekly, Siri, and Mike W. Barr)

2014 (interview with first person to portray Bill Finger)

PLUS TWO: 

all known print tributes to Bill

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Unlikely influences on my first book

In 1996, my first book came out. It was an activity book based on a character I did not create, a rabbit named Felix. This little guy originated in Germany and is still very popular there. The activities were themed around two subjects, geography and history.

In 1999, the sequel came out, and despite the usual pattern, it was better than the first—much longer, too. In fact, it contained the first book and added four new sections: holidays, telling time, the environment, and space. It also contained several features I felt made it stand out: a star code to indicate complexity of each activity, a subject index (yes, in an activity book! about a rabbit!), a skills index, and a contest to create an activity for the next activity book (which still has not come).

Recently I came across a list I made at the time that indicates what influenced me while writing this. (Yes, an activity book can have influences, apparently.) Reading this list will either A) make you curious enough to seek out the long-out-of-print book or B) cause you to consider me legally (or at least textually) insane. What's more, I have now expanded the list. (So I guess you're going with choice B.) Here it is:

  • No Jacket Required by Phil Collins (page 12) *
  • "All I Need Is a Miracle" by Mike + the Mechanics (page 27)
  • "The Time Warp" from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (page 41)
  • The Twilight Zone episode "Time Enough at Last" (page 46)
  • "Talk of the Town" section of The New Yorker (page 53)
  • Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965 movie I still haven't seen; page 55)
  • License to Drive (never saw that one either; page 57)
  • "One Thing Leads to Another" by the Fixx (page 60)
  • "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" (page 64)
  • Coins in the Fountain by John Hermes Secondari (page 73)
  • * "Take Me Home" by Phil Collins (page 103)
  • Foster's beer slogan "Australian for beer" (which I renamed "Australian for Fun"; page 112)
  • Slippery When Wet by Bon Jovi (here called "Slippery When Wetland"; page 117)
  • Tool Time from Home Improvement (page 128)
  • Olympics tagline "thrill of victory" (page 132)
  • card game Set (finding various kinds of patterns; page 132)
  • "Love Among the Ruins" by Robert Browning (page 133)
  • "A Hard Day's Night" by the Beatles (pages 148-9)
  • Rashomon (four Native Americans tell the same story from their respective points of view; pages 166-7)
  • "Sunshine on My Shoulders" by John Denver (page 183)
  • Name That Tune (page 194)
  • "Live, from New York, it's..." from Saturday Night Live (page 203)
  • Rabbit Redux by John Updike (page 224)
  • The World According to Garp by John Irving (page 232)
  • "Chain of Fools" by Aretha Franklin (page 247)
  • "Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!" from The Wizard of Oz (page 249)
  • "As Time Goes By" from Casablanca (page 252)
  • The Anti-Coloring Book (in general)

Some influenced the title while others influenced the concept of an activity. Which do you think is the most outlandish?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Summer Author Institute at Frostburg (MD) State University

On 7/10/12, I had the honor of presenting to teachers and graduate students who signed up for the Frostburg (MD) University "Meet the Author" program. After an intimate, conversational presentation that spilled into a second hour, several of the participants kindly took me to lunch where they ran the risk of seeing a piece of lettuce get stuck in my teeth. (But I default to salads for lunch when I'm working; carbs = sleepy.)

I was one of three authors speaking during the weeklong event. The participants were divided into smaller groups, each of which had to create a project on its author. Here are glimpses of how the poor group stuck with me managed to overcome that in style:

The puzzle below is based on one of the stories in Vanished: True Stories of the Missing. (This one.)


Thank you to Frostburg for this most fun invitation. Hope to be back that way again.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

How I sign my superhero books

The title spread of Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman is ready-made with a cheeky (though not premeditated) signature spot: within a word bubble coming from Superman.


(Technically, since Superman is "speaking," the signature should be his name...but no one seems to mind.)

At first I didn’t see the same potential in Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman…but with only the third book signed, I found a comparable (if slightly more difficult) approach for Batman.


(It's supposed to call to mind the Bat-Signal.)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Finger food

Possibly being served at any Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman signing you attend:





fingerling potatoes
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