Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Bill Finger memorial in Poe Park in the Bronx, part 3 of 3

Part 2.

Here is my proposal for a Bill Finger memorial in the Bronx:

Goal: Install a modest memorial statue in Poe Park for Bill Finger, the uncredited co-creator, original writer, and visual architect of perhaps the world’s most popular superhero, Batman.

Background: I am the author of Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, which has generated extensive media including NPR’s All Things Considered and Forbes, and has made best-of-the-year lists at USA Today, Washington Post, and MTV. Unprecedented in both subject and format, the book is the first to reveal the full and startling true story behind the creation of Batman in 1939—which took place right there in the Bronx! Finger is like the Bronx itself—too often both are unrecognized for their cultural contributions. An installation to Finger would actually serve a triple purpose: help right a wrong, boost Bronx/NYC tourism, and make pop culture history. It would be the first memorial honoring a superhero creator in NYC, the Superhero Capital of the World.

Why Bill Finger? He’s the main mind behind one of the most influential fictional icons in world history yet his onetime partner, cartoonist Bob Kane, took full credit for Batman. Finger designed Batman’s costume; wrote the first Batman story and many of the best stories of his first 25 years (including his groundbreaking—and heartbreaking—origin); wrote the first stories of popular supporting characters including Robin and the Joker; named Bruce Wayne, Gotham City, and the Batmobile; and nicknamed Batman "the Dark Knight," which has influenced the titles of two of the highest-grossing movies of all time. Yet while Kane never wrote a Batman story, Finger never saw his name as co-creator in a Batman story.

In 1974, after a career in which most of his work was published anonymously, Finger died alone and poor. No obituary. No funeral. No gravestone.

No kidding.

Finger was largely responsible for one of our greatest fictional champions of justice. It is time for justice for Finger himself.

Why Poe Park? Finger and Kane used to brainstorm Batman stories there; see documentation below and attached. In the early 1940s, Bill lived on the Grand Concourse just north of Poe Park. Also, appropriately, Poe was the father of the modern detective story and Batman is known as the World’s Greatest Detective. The Batman-Poe Park connection was recently covered in the New York Times (though the article mistakenly states that Batman was created in Poe Park).

Why now? True, this is not the best time. The best time would have been while Finger was alive. But since we can’t go back, this is the next-best time. There are untold thousands of Batman fans worldwide clamoring for DC Comics to add his name to the Batman credit line. DC may not be able to do that at this time, but we can pay tribute to Finger’s legacy in another meaningful and bold way.

Batman’s significance (beyond the obvious):

Batman is iconic even to those not interested in comic book culture. To a relative few, Batman may seem like just another superhero; however, he is one of the most recognizable fictional characters in world history (let alone the most lucrative superhero of all time). He’s in a class by himself and therefore, so is his original writer/visual architect.

I know New York has been home to countless notable people and historic events. But not many accomplishments (certainly few cultural accomplishments) can compare to the magnitude of Batman’s influence—and it all dates back to a humble start in an unassuming apartment in the Bronx, thanks to the mind of Bill Finger. The Batman imprint at DC Comics puts out at least thirteen Batman-themed comic books every month. (The next most popular, Superman, has only four.) Batman currently appears on the list of the top 20 highest-grossing films of all time...twice (and it’s not just teenaged boys making those movies break records). Batman has starred in TV animation since 1968 and almost continuously since 1992. The examples go on and on.

Target date: 2014 (75th anniversary of Batman, 100th anniversary of
Finger’s birth, 40th anniversary of Finger’s death). We would be able to piggyback on other media, though this being an unprecedented project will almost certainly generate media on its own.

Legal aspect: Though Kane’s contract with DC prevents DC from officially co-crediting Finger, DC does give him credit for every story he wrote. What’s more, I have extensive documentation from publications produced or sanctioned by DC Comics crediting Finger equally with Kane for Batman. (Also, this is almost certainly a partial list.) I have annotated my book, the result of five years of meticulous research, line by line. Some of the evidence in Finger’s favor comes from the unlikeliest source: Kane’s 1989 autobiography. Bill the Boy Wonder was published in July 2012 without incident. My previous nonfiction superhero book, Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, was also about a DC Comics character. My hunch is that DC Comics wants to do more for Finger but they are contractually restricted, so they are pleased when others step up to do what they can’t.

Cost: I plan to use Kickstarter and private sources.

Sources for the Batman-Poe Park connection:

Batman & Me, Bob Kane and Tom Andrae, Eclipse Books, 1989, p. 41: "We used to hang out at Poe Park." This is Bob Kane’s autobiography.

The Steranko History of Comics, Volume 1, James Steranko, Supergraphics, Reading, PA, 1970, p. 44: "He asked Bill to meet him later at Edgar Allan Poe Park to discuss a new strip." This is one of the definitive resources on comics history, and the only book to publish an interview with Finger in his lifetime.

Amazing World of DC Comics #1, uncredited article, DC Comics, July-August 1974, p. 28: "Bob asked Bill to meet him later at Edgar Allan Poe Park to discuss a new strip"

Famous 1st Edition (Batman #1) # F-5, Carmine Infantino, DC Comics, February-March 1975, inside front cover: "They agreed to meet later at Poe Park, to work out the details"

interview with Julius Schwartz (longtime DC Comics editor who grew up in the Bronx): "Edgar Allen Poe Park, and there were benches there. And Bill Finger and Bob Kane would meet and plot stories"

I will do all I can to help make this happen and hope to have your support and collaboration. People dressed as Batman will come on a regular basis and take photos with it...


Alfred Moch said...

Yes... I grew up in The Fordham Section of The Bronx, and I have been to Poe Park many times. I think a tribute to both would be nice, but also restore the recognition of Bill Finger as well in the process.

Shana said...

I see a book about the NYC Public monument system in your future! It sounds as though the commission...a few private people and their opinions wields a lot of power over public art. Personally, when I wander the great cities, I love to LEARN about important people whom time may have relegated to less known, but that served important roles. In New York I think of all the past mayors with major highways, airports or other places named after them. They helped shape the city, yes, but rarely were inspirational people as administrators. Batman gives purpose and hope and asks each citizen of Gotham to be a force for good, a citizen who helps others in need. He and his story have become part of the story of New York City and for tourists as well as residents I would think seeing a statue reminding us of his story, of Bill Finger's story would inform, inspire, lead to reflection and maybe action, a wonderful thing for the city.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks Alfred and Shana! I appreciate the support.

Captain Blog said...

Can't help but be a bit peeved at finding out Finger had no gravestone when Kane's is a flowing maelstrom of profound wisdom that probably rates a blog entry of its own.
I'm sure you've seen it as the light emanating from it provides power for several orphanages in the area.
(written with tongue firmly in cheek)

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