Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Athena Finger: Year One

In 2006, when I started researching Bill Finger for what would become Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, I quickly learned that there might be no family left. As relayed in the author’s note of the book, I was told that Bill had only one child, Fred, who was gay and who died in 1992. It seemed to mark the end of the Finger bloodline.

But eight years ago today, late on Saturday 2/17/07, I learned that what I was told was wrong.

Fred had been bisexual for a while…and had a daughter. Meaning Bill had a grandchild…an heir.

Learning of Athena Finger was the biggest moment of my research.

Going on memory, I would have said that I found Athena the following Tuesday (2/20/07), but upon referring to my notes, it was actually a week after that. I can’t believe it took me 10 days.

The family members who told me about Athena did not know how to reach her. On Ancestry.com, I found her marriage record, thereby learning the name of her husband. I searched and found his name on the site of a drummer who turned out to be a friend. He suggested I contact Athena via her MySpace page. (This was in the quaint era before I would’ve immediately checked MySpace…now Facebook (AKA Findbook).

Upon checking MySpace, I saw that her dog’s name was Bruce Wayne. And I saw a photo of her as a child with Fred.

With the subject line “Hi Athena - your grandfather,” I sent this message:
Hi Athena,

My name is Marc Nobleman. I’m a writer who lives in Connecticut. Most of the books I’ve published are for children; you can see a full list on www.bn.com. (I’m also a cartoonist at www.mtncartoons.com.)

Now I’m working on a picture book about a subject that has been a passion of mine since I was seven: Batman. My focus is the uncredited co-creator of Batman—Bill Finger. I’ve been researching for almost a year and finally found a piece of the puzzle that was very elusive—Portia’s family. (I did not know the name of her twin sister so it was a lot of trial and even more error.) Through [Athena’s aunt] Judy, I learned of you!

I know you were born after Bill died but you are his closest living relative so it would be my honor to talk with you. In particular, I am hoping you inherited photos of Bill? Judy loaned me the few she had (including some of your dad and you, which I’d be happy to email you) but I am hoping to find more. The photos are not for reproduction in the book—the book will be illustrated so they are for visual reference for the illustrator.

Also, the book is not an expose or an intimate family portrait—it’s a tribute to Bill and his role in Batman.

If you’re game, I can call at your convenience. My number is xxx-xxx-xxxx and email is xxx@xxx.com.

I love the name of your dog!

Hope to hear back from you soon,

That night, at 6:30 p.m., Athena called.

I noted that she sounded “grounded, calm, nice.” Among the things she said...

  • only other person who had contacted her about Bill did so in about 2002; she didn’t remember his name or the reason, but nothing came of it
  • most of what she knew about Bill was the same as what Fred said in his 1986 interview
  • she had not heard of Bill’s sister Emily, whom I had also recently discovered and contacted
  • she was not included in the process of giving away Fred’s things after he died (she was 15)
  • she did not know that Fred’s companion Charles Shaheen had also died, in 2002
  • she did school projects on Bill
  • when she married, she kept the last name “Finger” as a tribute (she’s the last—her son’s surname is different)
  • she was excited to show my book to her son
  • she was happy—sometimes emotional—that I had gotten in touch

By that point, I’d been researching for more than half a year and thought I knew my arc. But this changed everything. This meant the story was not yet over.

And by chance, I had a trip to Florida scheduled for the following month, so we did not have to wait long to meet in person.


A month later, Athena posted this

Three years to the day I found Athena, Charlesbridge made an offer on the book.

1 comment:

"T.V. Barnum" said...

That's a nice little story - but then you have always been known to do great research and tracking down people ... even back when it was harder to do so :)

I do hope she is planning legal action since DC did misdirected royalties that she was the rightful heir to all those years - someone dropped the ball and didn't do their due diligence after Fred Died.

As I'm sure you know, the bulk of DC's reprints of her Grandfather's work at DC was printed in the DC Archives Collections line during those years. (Batman as well as his Golden Age Green Lantern & Wildcat stories)

Forget for a moment the whole Bill didn't get credit for co-creating Batman -(Yes, I know that is hard) - that's a separate issue. This is the one that something can be done about.

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