Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Letters from Bill Finger's son to Bob Kane

From 11/6/13 to 11/8/13, I had the privilege of speaking at four elementary schools in the state of my birth, Connecticut: Branchville in Ridgefield and Coleytown, Saugatuck, and Kings Highway in Westport.

Scenes from the homecoming:

A pre-presentation huddle with Coleytown’s Deb Boyhen and the kids 
who coolly volunteered to tag-team introduce me. 

My contribution to the Kings Highway Elementary author wall; 
upon the kind request of one of the teachers, 
I quoted something I said in the presentation.
My contribution added. Thanks Kate Byrnes!

 For the first time, I saw the Scholastic Book Club edition of  
Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman and 
a new, glossier edition of Vanished: True Stories of the Missing. 
Immediately upon noticing this lovely painting 
in the library at Kings Highway, I thought “Pilgrim selfie.”
Missed op: me taking selfie in front of Pilgrim selfie.



Daniel Kirk! Mac Barnett!

Special mention must be made of Ed Wolf’s 5th grade class at Coleytown Elementary in Westport.

Even before he knew I was coming to speak at the school, he led his students on one of the most meaningful classroom extensions I’ve seen for any of my books.

They read Bill the Boy Wonder, then had to choose one of two writing options:

  1. Is Bill Finger responsible for what happened to him?
  2. Pretend you are Fred Finger (Bill’s son). Write a letter to Bob Kane expressing your feelings about how he treated his dad and whether or not Bill received the recognition he deserved. Also suggest what Bob should do to make things right.

What I especially love about option #2 is that it asks the kids to role play. The more obvious assignment would have been
write a letter to Bob as yourself. But asking them to write from the perspective of the protagonist’s son challenges them to distinguish any empathetic feelings they have from whatever feelings they would imagine Fred had.

Here is some of the glory that resulted for each option.

option 1:

“When Bill decided to try to get a little recognition…Bob accused him of overreacting and basically pushed him back down into the dark again. … Any logical person on the planet earth could know that Bill should deserve something better than absolutely nothing. …He was worried that if he stood up [to Bob] he’d get fired and have to work at a bread factory.”

“Another reason I think Bob is selfish is because he didn’t understand or appreciate that Bill just did the Batman stories for the love of writing and not for the love of popularity. … In class we read the Bob Kane letter. My mouth dropped to the floor. … I think that was super-childish.”

“At first when Bill didn’t get the credit, it was Bob’s fault for being selfish, but after 35 years, Bill still didn’t stand up for his rights. … Bill had to go through the work of pretending to be Christian just to become a modestly paid anonymous writer.”

“Usually I’m not interested in superheroes, but this is a special case. … Bill was responsible for what happened to him. … Bob never amended…the contract [after stating that Bill deserves to have his name added to Batman]. He was speaking empty words. … Bob didn’t say that he would immediately put Bill’s name on all the comics. He was saying “If he was alive…” But Bob knew that Bill would never be alive again. So Bob was saying nothing of meaning.”

“For thirty years, everybody thought that the creator of Batman was Bob Kane. However, it was the man in the back room, Bill Finger, who really created Batman.”

“Why would a full-grown man lie to children?” 

option 2:

“All my dad wanted was to be known as a good writer and you took his big dream/hit away! … I am ashamed of you for letting my dad be like a flick of dust that will not be remembered!”

“Why did you keep my father’s identity secret? Why did you add this in the contract? That was just cold. You thought he would be famous and you would be left in the dust or something? Well, now you deserve that treatment. … It’s really not too late. You can still add Bill Finger into the comics. The only thing is that…my father would never know that you, Bob Kane, actually came through for him.”

My father had to DIE for you to understand that he deserved credit. You had THIRTY YEARS to come your senses and you didn’t.”

One of the imagined Fred letters gave his email at the end: FredMichalFinger5634@batmail.com.

my favorite:

“The best thing of all is you believed in my father, and that might have meant something to him. And I thank you for that. But you also did the wrong.”

This profound young writer also included a bulleted list called “Some things you could do to fix the mess you made”:

  • make sure that Bill gets what he deserves
  • make a more sincere speech
  • say in public that Bill created Batman and not you
  • confess and say to people that you are not the creator of Batman
  • tell everyone that Bill Finger had a hand in it, too
  • apologize to the people you lied to

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