Tuesday, April 30, 2013

“Bill the Boy Wonder” secrets revealed!

Soon after Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman came out in 2008, I posted what I called a “tour” of the book, pointing out details, tricks, and other Easter eggs that even astute readers might otherwise miss.

Here is the tour for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.


As is typical for contemporary picture books, the pages aren’t numbered. (Publishers fear that could turn off readers by calling attention to their relatively short length.) So I’ll reference pages by their first few words. 

Get your copy of the book and follow along...

“Every Batman story…” (inside front cover) 

backstory – I originally envisioned this text (both white and yellow) as a teaser/cold open on the page before the title page. It’s still before the title page…

“After Milton Finger graduated…” 


design – This image is a (rotated) close-up of the scene on the title page. See little Bill?
never-published information – Bill’s given name was Milton; Bill graduated high school in 1933.
 
design – I wanted the three “secret identity” starbursts throughout the book to be consistent in color scheme (happened) and size (did not). 
backstory – The “first secret identity” line was intended to be a hook. People reading a book about a superhero would not be surprised to see mention of a secret identity (singular)…but it would be unusual for someone to have more than one.

“Bill loved literature…”
 

design – Throughout the book, Ty depicts Bill in blue and Bob in yellow. Bill liked to wear blue Oxford shirts. And the yellow stands for…

“That weekend he sketched…”
 

design – I love the scene in the first panel but felt the apartment looked too grand for a young artist in New York. I was (peaceably) overruled. Similarly, I felt the sidewalk in the second panel was too wide, but creative license won that one. In early drafts of the manuscript, I described the look of Bob’s character and first gave the name “Bat-Man” in the text, but once I started to lay out the book in my mind, I saw that these reveals would have a more striking impact if instead we showed them in the art.

“Wings aside…” 


design – We deliberately showed only parts of Batman rather than the whole for two reasons. First, delayed gratification: the later it comes, the greater the effect. Two, we had to be selective about showing characters owned by DC Comics: the fewer, the better.
attention to detail – That bat is a reproduction of how the drawing really looked in the 1937 Webster’s Dictionary, which would’ve been the most current edition when Bill and Bob were building Batman in 1939. (The fish, a bass, is also authentic.)

“In April 1939…” 


attention to detail – The image is based on a period photo of a newsstand. The comic covers are ones that would have been on the newsstand at approximately the same time as Detective Comics #27 (Batman’s debut). This is the first “full” appearance of Batman in the book, though I consider it too small to count.

“Bill and Bob would sit in Poe Park…” 


attention to detail – This setting is based on period photographs of Poe Park.

“Though Bill had wanted Bat-Man…” 


design – The sentence starting “Bat-Man became Batman…” makes sense in print, but requires elaboration/clarification when read aloud. 
design – This marks the second appearance of Batman, though only his head on a comic book cover. Still no big splash.

“Almost immediately Bob hired…” 


attention to detail – Those two guys standing in the background are Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who were friends with Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson (seated). 
design – This is an example of taking advantage of the medium of picture books. The fact that Bill and Jerry played darts is not significant to the larger story, but it is visually interesting so it became the setting for the information conveyed in the accompanying text. Otherwise it could’ve been another scene of guys at a desk.

“But Bill stuck…” 


attention to detail – The phrase “superstitious, cowardly hearts of criminals” is a nod to Detective Comics #33, which first presents the origin of Batman and in which Bruce Wayne says “Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot. So my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts.” 
backstory – No gun is visible on purpose, though the threat is still evident.

“Steadily, silently, Bill built…” 


attention to detail – In the first sketches, Batman did not appear in this scene because the text is about Batman’s sidekick and villains.


However, in layout, I realized that we had not yet shown a whole, sizable Batman so I asked that we add him; as noted above, Batman does appear on a comic cover in two previous scenes, but in both cases, he is so miniscule that some readers may overlook him. And if kids got to this spread showing Batman’s supporting cast but still had not seen a “big” Batman, they would feel that it was either lame or an oversight. 
attention to detail – At first glance most will presume that the title of the book comes from the familiar phrase “Robin the Boy Wonder,” and that is a good thing, but on this page a more literal inspiration for the title manifests itself. It is in Bob’s 1989 autobiography where he said he referred to Bill as “boy wonder.” He, too, was not oblivious to the Robin association, even if he did indeed call Bill this back at the beginning of Batman.

“Other comics creators…” 


attention to detail – When I first saw the sketch in which both the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings are visible, I said I didn’t think that there was a ground-level vantage point (even with the lower skyline of the 1940s, when this scene took place) from which such a view existed. Upon seeing images like the one below and thereby learning I was wrong, we situated the scene on East 30th Street in an attempt at authenticity. 


backstory – I did not want the inset showing Bill shaking an editor’s hand, for two reasons. One, we already had a handshake image (Kane and editor Vin Sullivan) and I felt including a second one would dilute the (tragic) significance of the first. Two, I doubt it happened. I would guess that an editor simply called Bill to ask for a story, and it was as unceremonious as that. I was overruled, and it was okay.  
attention to detail – The gimmick book examples came from published sources and the astounding memory of Charles Sinclair.

“In 1948 Bill and his wife…” 


never-published information – Bill nicknamed his son Fred “Little Finger.” 
attention to detail – The ticket window is based on several period photographs. 
design – Originally, the text specified the way Bill snuck Fred into the museum, but after we began discussing art, it became clear to me that it would be more fun to portray the trick solely in the art.

“While his son…” 


backstory – The quotation “I’d like to return to the innocence of my childhood” was not essential, but I included it because it comes from the only known instance of Bill being mentioned/quoted in a mainstream publication (The New Yorker, 1965) in his lifetime.

“Bill was fond of writing…” 


attention to detail – The size of the plug seems disproportionately small compared to the size of the fork and plate, but we’d already gone through several sketches to get the trajectory of Batman popping out of the toaster seem plausible (ha) so the size concern was one I had to let go. 
attention to detail – If I had not caught that the absence of Batman on the earlier spread featuring the supporting characters/villains would seem like a goof, this would have been the first full-on appearance of Batman in the book.

“To get his stories…” 


attention to detail – This desk scene is, unbelievably, perhaps, based on a 1940s photograph of Bill’s workspace. Yes, I went from being told only two photos of Bill exist to having not only 11 photos but also one of his writing desk.  
attention to detail – That unassuming little paperweight is not just an illustrator flourish.

“During the first twenty-five years…” 


attention to detail – Here is the page from the 1943 story in which Bill’s name appears…sort of. Look carefully...


“In 1964 that changed…” 

backstory – Ty Templeton made up the blue-armored figure partially visible behind Julie Schwartz. I did not know this until after the book came out. I would have pushed for a glimpse of a known character, but I understand Ty wanting to limit potential intellectual property claims.

“The next summer…” 


backstory – I wanted either Bill to be wearing a tie or one other panelist not to be because I felt Bill could come off as schlubby if he were the only one that casual. I was overruled.

“Jerry also did his own…” 


attention to detail – The print over Bill’s desk…was a print over Bill’s desk. Thanks (again) to Charles Sinclair for injecting even more accuracy.


attention to detail – The image of “If the Truth Be Known…” looks that way because this scene takes place in 1965, a time when photocopies did not exist but mimeographs (in all their smudgy purple glory) did.

“Bill’s final Batman…” 


never-published information – Bill’s death date (previously reported as January 24). design – “Come Monday” deliberately repeats a construct I used for the first historic “Batman weekend” (1939).

“Now grown…” 


never-published information – Bill was cremated; Fred spread his ashes on an (Oregon) beach in an apropos shape. (No spoilers here. You have to see it for yourself.) 


“In Bob’s later years…” 

design – I did not think we needed the “Bob Kane” credit box there to identify him, and in fact worried it might be confusing, but was overruled.

“Jerry Robinson had long wanted…” 


attention to detail – This image is based on a photograph of Jerry’s home office. I asked for the TV to show a still from the credits of the 1960s TV Batman show, though it’s been “modified to fit the screen.”

“It was named…” 


attention to detail – That’s Jerry again, with Mark Evanier. We sought permission to include the Comic-Con imagery.

“From Milton to Bill…” 


backstory – I normally don’t like posing questions in my text, but could not resist the penultimate line.

copy of guestbook (last page) 


never-published information – Through a fluke both sad and fortunate, this remnant of Bill still exists.

“Bill was the greatest…” (inside back cover) 


backstory – Two of these three quotations were not my original suggestions. I had used a quotation from Lyn Simmons, Bill’s second wife, and another by another associate of Bill’s, but neither of them appear in the story proper and my editor, Alyssa Mito Pusey, felt it would be better to quote characters the reader already knew. I was hesitant at first but came to see her point…and am so glad I did. I love it this way.

I love it all this way.

Thank you, Alyssa, Ty, Martha, and the veritable flash mob of others whose knowledge and talent combined to make this a book about which I am overflowing with pride.


More Bill Finger secrets abound, if you know where to look...

Monday, April 29, 2013

Grandmaster Flash, the Fastest DJ Alive

This blog is not known for its hip-hop commentary.

(Once, however, I did write about hip-hop. An entry in What’s the Difference? is the difference between hip-hop and rap.)



Even though I’m not exactly a GOAT, I was fascinated to learn of a certain connection between hip-hop culture and comic books thanks to the 4/8/13 New York magazine, its third annual “yesteryear” issue. (In that same issue, I learned of a connection between Bill Finger and Colin Powell.)

This recollection by graffiti artist Fab 5 Freddy caught my attention:

I was into the whole comic-book concept. … And the whole comic-book concept of adapting this alternative persona was a big inspiration on the development of hip-hop culture. Case in point: Since I’m the fastest D.J., I’m going to call myself Grandmaster Flash. You’d create this alternative urban superhero persona who could do all the cool things that you fantasize about doing—graffiti or rap or break-dancing. It inspired a lot of New York City kids. It made me a graffiti artist.

Did you catch that? According to FFF, Grandmaster Flash is named after the superhero the Flash! It’s not even in GF
s Wikipedia entry!

The idea that comic books could inspire someone to become a graffiti artist hadn’t occurred to me before. But it sure makes sense. Both comics and graffiti have an urban sensibility, bright colors, and a history of being forbidden. And both had to work hard to be taken seriously as an art form. (Of course, I’m not condoning illegal graffiti.)

I can’t name a single Grandmaster Flash album or single, but I love the guy anyway.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

World's Greatest Detective and Secretary of State were almost neighbors

According to the 2004 Colin Powell biography by Reggie Finlayson (page 20), the family of the former Secretary of State moved to 952 Kelly Street in the South Bronx when Powell was four, so around 1941.

another source, Lodi News-Sentinel, 2/16/91

Just two years prior, something else notable happened on Kelly Street.

A superhero named Batman was created there.



I learned that Powell and Finger were nearly neighbors thanks to the 4/8/13 New York, its third annual “yesteryear” issue. (It didn’t mention Finger but I hadn’t known that Powell also has a tie to Kelly Street.)

I found an article about Powell returning to the Bronx in 2010 for a building dedication near Kelly Street. The article quoted Damian Griffin, Education Director of the Bronx River Alliance, who also lived nearby.

I emailed Damian, starting with “Here’s a question you don’t get every...well, ever.” I explained who I am and built up to this: “If you happen to live down the street from Finger’s former residence, would you be willing to go there and ask a tenant for the contact info of who owns the building? Consider it a cultural favor to New York!”

Damian responded as follows:


We actually met when…you came as a visiting author [to my son’s school several years ago]! Funny world. I will check out the building on my bike ride to work this morning and let you know. If I can help, I certainly will.

The coincidences continued. He also said that he used to know the family in the basement apartment of Finger’s former home. And upon doing a property map search, he saw that his daughter’s first babysitter now owns the building. (However, that turned out to be another person with the same name.)

By week’s end, Damian came through and sent me the contact information for the building owner.

As for why I want it, stay tuned.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Scarab in print and in person


Image from Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.

Scarab from Bill the Boy Wonder, AKA Bill Finger.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Fitchburg footwear


On 11/7/12, with fallen snow as fresh as the newly re-elected president, I spoke several times at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts.

The stage in the auditorium where I gave my first presentation of the day was set up for a play:


At a lovely reception with teachers-in-training, they distributed this bookmark:


The poster designed for my final talk of the day is one of the coolest ever done in connection to my work:


I enjoyed the first snowfall of the season except for the fact that the only shoes I brought were these:

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Why “Bill the Boy Wonder” should have been nominated for an Eisner


A book I wrote, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman (illustrated by Ty Templeton), should have been nominated for a 2013 Eisner Award.


I realize that this may come across as brazen or bitter. But it’s not deriving from the natural bias an author has for his work. In fact, most of my rationale is objective. (Can something be self-serving and have integrity at the same time?)

The quick list of reasons why I believe the book deserved an Eisner nomination:


  • It is unprecedented in topic.
  • It is unprecedented in approach.
  • It is unprecedented in research.
  • It received mainstream critical acclaim, including an invitation to give a TED talk.
  • It has already had a positive real-world impact on the family.
  • It may have a significant real-world impact on fans. [9/18/15 addendum: It did.]
  • Kids, I’m happy to report, love it.

All of this is, of course, rewarding and humbling enough, but in terms of what this book has contributed to comics scholarship, not to mention social justice, the leading industry award should have acknowledged it. (Heck, part of the Eisner ceremony is the Bill Finger Awards!)



In particular, I believe that Bill the Boy Wonder deserved a nomination in at least one of these two categories:


  • Best Publication for Kids (ages 8-12)
  • Best Comics-Related Book

But perhaps it is because the book is eligible for both that it was nominated for neither. Unfortunately, some have a perception that nonfiction for young readers or for all ages is not as “legitimate” as exclusively adult nonfiction. However, I am hardly the only one who strongly disagrees with this view. And I feel it makes an even stronger statement to tell this story a format that is, to some, so unexpected.

An elaboration on my reasons (which does not sequentially expand on the quick list above because the points intermingle): 


For nearly 75 years, the sole creator myth that cartoonist Bob Kane started has reigned, and no previous book has gone far enough to debunk this. No previous book has put Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator and original writer of Batman (quite possibly the most popularand almost certainly the most lucrativesuperhero in world history) at the rightful center of the story. That alone makes this a book worthy of some distinction.

Yet there is more. 

Bill the Boy Wonder, the result of five years (and counting) of intensive sleuthing, is the first book on Bill. Strange that it took this long; his peers and fans alike considered him everything from the most gifted comics writer of his generation to an unequivocal genius.

I was one of the last writers (if not the last writer) in touch with several of Bill’s Golden and Silver Age colleagues (Arnold Drake, Alvin Schwartz, Carmine Infantino) before they died, and none of
Bill’s family and non-comics friends I contacted had ever been interviewed about him. I uncovered everything from his high school yearbook photo to the only known note in his handwriting to his WWII draft record to his death certificate (first two in the book, second two on this blog). None of it was a mere Google away.

There is still more.

Though Bill the Boy Wonder is the standard thinness of traditional picture books, it packs in a lot of previously unpublished bombshells:
 

  • Bill’s given first name and why he changed it
  • the aforementioned handwritten note (now the only surviving version because the owner—Jerry Robinson—lost the original after I copied it)
  • who was receiving Batman royalties—properly and illegally—for Bill’s work
  • quotations from Bill’s only known personal correspondence
  • the aforementioned yearbook photo (not as easy to find as you would think)
  • nearly a dozen “new” photos from personal collections
  • exactly when and how Bill died
  • a persistent rumor about Bill’s remains is wrong…and the truth is visually chilling
  • Bill had a second wife 
  • the only known mainstream press mention of Bill in his lifetime (The New Yorker, 1965)
  • the only known time between 1939 and 1963 that Bill’s name appeared in a Batman comic…sort of…
  • more than one example of entries from Bill’s famed but long-gone “gimmick books” (Alvin Schwartz mentioned one online but the others come from Bill’s longtime friend Charles Sinclair)
  • Bill’s endearing nickname for his son Fred
  • what Bill kept on his desk 
  • what Bill liked to eat late at night

And most startling of all:


  • the lone and previously unknown heir to Bill Finger: how I found her, who she is, and how my involvement helped her to receive long-overdue Batman royalties

For all of above, my book is the only print source.

Plus I continue to find
even more info and I regularly share it on this blog and at speaking engagements, free of charge. That’s the modern model of storytelling.

Lastly, Bill the Boy Wonder may change pop culture history. [9/18/15 addendum: It did.]

Despite what the comics community believed for decades, I discovered that Bill does have the aforementioned heir, a granddaughter born two years after he died. She is in the unique position to try to correct the ubiquitous, contractually mandated, yet egregiously inaccurate credit line “Batman created by Bob Kane.” In the history of comics, whole credit lines have been added to superheroes after years of anonymity, but no existing superhero credit line has changed.

I know that a real-world repercussion is not a criterion for an Eisner nomination, and even if that never happens, the book is still a landmark work in the field. 


Again a bold statement, but I can’t very well continue to call Bill’s failure to speak up on his own behalf a fatal flaw and then follow his lead. 

*     *     *

Disclaimer: This opinion is no way a judgment on any of the deserving talents who were nominated; I am not comparing my work to theirs but rather assessing it on its own. Good luck to all of the nominees.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The farthest Bill Finger traveled


Kids are sometimes quick to point out that Batman doesn’t fly. 

Neither did Bill Finger.

He lived in New York most of his life, and as far as we know, usually did not wander too far. We know he vacationed in Provincetown (Cape Cod), MA.


 
We know he took the train to Washington DC when writing for the Army Pictorial Center circa 1969-70; he was apparently thrilled to get Pentagon clearance. 

But he never took a plane anywhere.

The farthest I’ve tracked him is an unlikely destination for an unlikely reason. At one point, probably in the 1950s, Bill went to a seder…in Texas.

Yes, Bill the non-observant Jew celebrated Passover in the Lone Star State—
probably not the first you think of when you think matzah and maror.

And on 4/8/13, I went to Texas for the first time since Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman came out to speak to the sixth graders at Gregory-Portland Intermediate School in the Corpus Christi suburb of Portland. The district’s theme for the year is superheroes. I was honored to be asked to be a part of it. (They did not know the Bill Finger connection before I came.)

It was the first time I’ve presented flanked by two bodyguards.



Favorite question of the day: “If you didn’t write this book on Bill Finger, do you think anyone else would have?”

Thank you, GPI, for allowing me to symbolically follow in the footsteps of Bill Finger, and for hosting such a lovely visit.




 more evidence of the market for this book



Hey girl, this humor was pinned to board in the teachers lounge.

GPI sent me a thick stack of thank-you letters and they contained an unusually large number of irresistible quotables:

  • “I can’t believe you went to other states just to get information.”
  • “I am now part of the Bill [Finger] army! I will go around and spread the word.”
  • “I liked how you had clarity, and great eye contact. Just keep on doing that and you won’t have anything to worry about.”
  • “Could you consider writing a book about a superhero piglet? Maybe it could be a winning idea for a children’s series.”
  • “It was a privilege to see where the first Superman comic was typed.”
  • “from the third kid in the first row”
  • “You kinda look like my Uncle, but with hair.”
  • What did you think about us as an audience?”
  • “I am sure someday you and I will be famous writers.”
  • “You inspired me not just to do your best but also be unique in what I love to do.”
  • “The part with the paperweight really teared me up. I almost cried!”
  • “Maybe I will write a book about you and you can give me the paperweight?”
  • “When my dad was little he loved to watch Superman movies or read comics. I told my dad all the information and he was amazed and I thank you for that.”
  • “If they could, I bet Jerry, Joe, and Bill would say thank you.”

All of these either made me laugh or moved me. Especially that last one.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

75 years ago today, the Boys of Steel changed pop culture

A week that brought horror in Boston and shame in Washington also includes an unlikely positive: according to court records, it was 75 years ago today when Superman debuted in Action Comics #1.


Thanks to the Boys of Steel for changing everything, even still: this month inaugurates an (admittedly clunky) tweak to the credit line in Superman stories: 

 from Justice League #19 (first appeared in Action Comics #19, 4/3/13)

If you think it trivializes real-life struggles to juxtapose them with a fictional character, go back to 1938: when America was caught between two of its greatest challenges (the Depression and WWII), Superman brought hope literally to millions...

It couldn't hurt to give the sky more than a passing glance today.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Jewish Museum of Maryland

On 3/31/13, I had the honor of speaking about the mystery behind the majority creator of Batman at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

The museum hosted the traveling Jewish-creators-of-superheroes exhibit, which includes a Bill Finger script that Jerry Robinson donated. The bio on this placard gets a few details wrong (starting with the city in which Bill was born), but I am thrilled that such an exhibit exists:



Note that address.

Jerry Robinson


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The only three celebrities

Having lived in New York for seven years and Los Angeles for almost three, I have come across a few celebrities (not counting musicians at concerts, participants in my “Super ‘70s and 80s” interview series, famous faces at fancy functions, or fellow kidlit authors). I must admit that I have not kept in touch with any of them.

But I did get my picture taken with three (only one of whom was in NYC or LA at the time). How is this for an unlikely trio?

Elle MacPherson, 1991, New Haven (I had just had my wisdom teeth out)

Dan Aykroyd, 1994, Los Angeles (I had just had a bad haircut, apparently)

Sumner Redstone, 1994 (yes, he counts!), Waltham, MA

Some of the ones who got away...

New York:

  • Donald Trump (I held door for him...at Trump Tower) 1994
  • Adrian Zmed (supermarket) 1995
  • Ric Ocasek (street) circa 1995
  • Jennifer Aniston (street) circa 1996
  • Abe Vigoda (restaurant) 1996
  • Kevin Spacey (hotel lobby) 2002
  • Christopher Lloyd (sidewalk cafĂ©) circa 2002
  • Allison Mack (street) 2006
  • Paul Simon (street) 2007
  • Spike Lee (driving) 2008
  • Tyra Banks (I held door for her at Barney's) 2008
  • Josh Hartnett (coming out of A&E) 2010
  • Rick Springfield (BookExpo America)
  • Emma Thompson (near the Plaza Hotel) 2016

Los Angeles:

  • Scott Valentine (supermarket) 1997 or 1998
  • Michael Keaton (going into tanning place) 1998
  • Paul Reiser 1998
  • Norm MacDonald (outside a cinema) 1998
  • Donald Sutherland (post office) 1998
  • Mark Harmon 1998
  • George Clooney (restaurant; table next to me) circa 1999
  • Cindy Crawford (same restaurant!) circa 1999
  • Woody Harrelson (driving) circa 1999
  • Barry Manilow (in a glossy stage outfit…in a Borders) circa 1999
  • Michael Crighton (also in a bookstore) circa 1999

on a plane/in an airport:

  • Al Gore circa 2002
  • Ice Cube 2007
  • Donny Osmond 2008
  • LeAnn Rimes 2012
  • Michael Shannon 2015

other:

  • Debbie Gibson (at a CT amusement park where I worked) 1989
  • Dustin Diamond (Las Vegas hotel lobby) 2007
  • Lindsay Lohan (Las Vegas restaurant) 2008
  • Micky Dolenz (DC hotel bar) 2012

Will you be next?


8/13/13 addendum: 

Huey Lewis, Wolf Trap, Virginia; he is only my favorite of all time

2/13/14 addendum:

Ally Sheedy, New York

5/5/14 addendum:

Kevin Smith, New York (selfie!)

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Pulitzer and “Bill the Boy Wonder”

Here is a photo of Junot Diaz, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, posing near Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman…and numerous other titles he is also not paying attention to:

Congratulations to today's Pulitzer Prize winners.

Kevin Smith tweeted me about Bill Finger

Now word is really spreading:
Another tweeter responded that he'd rather be Fingered than Kaned. Ain't that the truth (not something Kane was known for...).

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The date of a paperweight

As an author of nonfiction, authenticity is my co-pilot. But co-pilots make mistakes.

Half a year after Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman came out, I realized that my determination to visually include a particular detail obscured the possibility that I was including that accurate detail in an inaccurate period.

Among my most treasured possessions is my lone possession that Bill Finger used to own: a bronze-colored scarab paperweight his second wife Lyn purchased for him at the American Museum of Natural History.

I asked Ty Templeton, artist of Bill the Boy Wonder, to show the paperweight in a scene of Bill at his desk, and the illustration was based on a photo of Bill’s actual desk circa mid- to late-1940s.



However, Bill and Lyn were not married at that time; in fact, they may not have even met yet.

So the paperweight is an authentic detail…only a decade or two too soon.

Though not a goof that will jeopardize the integrity of the book as a whole, it did make me shake my head for a moment. However, it’s such a lovely little piece of the real Bill that, even had I realized the chronological misstep before we went to print, I think I would have left it in.



A flourish like that is worth its (paper)weight in gold (or bronze).

Saturday, April 13, 2013

IRA 2013: Invasion of Nonfiction Picture Book Authors

Chris Barton.

Shana Corey.

Brian Floca.

Megan McCarthy.


Me. (I am still in alphabetical order this way.)

On 4/21/13, from 3 to 5:45 p.m. (yes, almost three hours!), at the International Reading Association Convention in San Antonio, we five authors, moderated by Susannah Richards, Associate Professor of Education at Eastern Connecticut State University, will panel-discuss the importance of unconventional nonfiction...the stories that are not yet widely known, the people who are not textbook names.

Please join us. This group has never assembled before, and may never again. Therefore—and speaking of nonfiction—history will be witnessed. Unconventional nonfiction will be glorified.


And, of course, books will be signed:


I am signing two more times on Monday 4/22/13: 

  • Anderson's, booth 1003, 10-11 a.m.
  • Overlooked Books booth, booth 2519, 11 a.m.-12 p.m.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Facebook is also Findbook

When authors need to track down specific people to interview, quite possibly the best tool these days is Facebook. I’ve been using it for this purpose for about five years. (Funnily, in 2007, I reached the most pivotal figure I would uncover in my Bill Finger research…via MySpace.)

Sometimes Facebook instantly leads to direct hits. More often it takes some detective work to wend your way to who you want, especially with common names (like Howard Murphy) or with people who aren’t on Facebook under their own names, not to mention people with some degree of celebrity.

Facebook may not always get you all the way to your target, but it sure can help shorten the route quickly. The person you seek may not be on Facebook—or may not even be alive—but people who know that person are…and they may agree to put you in touch (if the person is indeed alive).

Looking for more than one person (i.e. members of a former band) is almost easier; there is a greater chance that any potential contact will know at least one from the group. This is, for example, how I found some of the Sea World skiers.


In such a case, finding only one can be all the lead you need; the first can then point you toward others s/he knew, and the leapfrogging begins. You can also skim his/her friends list for other names on your scavenger hunt.

If I don’t hear back from certain people, I may randomly ask some of their friends if they would help. You do encounter a lot of non-responders (unfortunately, there is sometimes a perception that a person in my position is after more than he says—the telemarketer syndrome). But as mentioned, it takes only one hit.

Speaking of which…

Recently, on a quest to find certain people, I tried using Facebook in a different way. This way is less time-consuming, but also riskier.

And my first experiment with it was a resounding success.

Facebook helped me find two women who had non-speaking roles in a 1984 music video—and whose names I didn’t know.


I’d been searching for them on and off for several weeks without luck. So on the morning of 2/27/13, I simply posted a photo of each woman and asked if any of my 1,800 Facebook friends knew either of them, or even just either name. I also asked people to share this query. And they did.

Within three hours, I had both names. Within three more hours, I had contact info for both. I was astounded, not to mention grateful. The power of social media grows ever more staggering.

So why is this a risky approach to research?  

One reason: it is hard to keep your project-in-progress confidential when you publicly poll almost everyone you know. 

Another: people often ask favors of their friends on Facebook—donate here, sign this, forward thatand many of those causes are truly worthy. This one, however, while part of my job, is not exactly a matter of life and death. I don’t want to barge into peoples feeds with a pursuit that can be seen as frivolous by comparison. Luckily in this case, many people were willing to help, and as I promised, it took very little time to do so.

Not everyone is online. And not everyone online is easily findable, even when you know his/her name. (And not everyone findable wants to be found, but that’s another story.)

Yet Facebook is a game-changer when it comes to looking for (nameless) needles in haystacks. For all the talk of how social networking sites are turning us into
real-world strangers, Facebook does shrink the gap between human connections. Call it eighteen hundred degrees of separation.

As for why I was searching for two people from a 1984 video, stayed tuned (and see hint in the Labels)...
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