Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Charles Sinclair (Bill Finger's longtime writing partner), 1924-2017

This one hits especially hard. 

While researching the book that would become Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, I found and interviewed eight Golden and Silver Age comics creators who knew Bill personally, plus two outside of comics who knew him even better: his second wife Lyn Simmons and his longtime writing partner Charles Sinclair.

Of those ten, Lyn is the only woman—and now the last man standing. On 11/15/17, Charles passed away at age 93. 

Charles was a writer and journalist. Charles and Bill co-wrote radio serials, television shows (most proudly for Charles: 77 Sunset Strip), B-movie scripts (The Green Slime, Track of the Moon Beast), and a two-part episode of the 1966 Batman TV show (featuring the Clock King). Charles was the hustler who got many of the gigs; Bill was the only Batman comics writer to make the leap to Batman TV writer.

Charles was the first person I found in my research, the first of three people in the book's dedication (along with Lyn and Bill's granddaughter Athena), and now the first of those three to pass away.

I found Charles on 6/15/06 (at 1 p.m., I noted) after searching for hours. I learned of him on IMDb (he was listed as a co-writer with Bill), then combed People Finder records. This led me to call dozens of people and production companies in Los Angeles, where I assumed a former TV writer would be living. 

When that failed, I tried searching his name nationwide on People Finder, that time including his middle initial R (which appeared only on the Writer's Guild "missing writers" page). I called the first guy on the list—and struck gold. We talked for 1.5 hours. I was the first person who interviewed him about Bill. He said he would buy a copy of my book.

In 2010, I told him that I sold the manuscript. He suggested a title: Crusader Without a Cape.

Thanks to Charles, I learned the following (not a complete list):

  • Bill had a "lady friend" named Lyn Simmons who, it turns out, became his second wife (and later became as invaluable in my research as Charles was)
  • how and where Bill died
  • details about Bill's legendary gimmick books (including what kind of notebooks they were and examples of entries)
  • how Bill got to write for the Batman TV show
  • visual details about Bill's workspace (from the make of his radio to the Klee print hanging over his desk), which I shared with Ty Templeton, who illustrated my book

Also, Charles connected me with his second wife, Nancy H. Cole, who was the first person to produce a decent, previously unpublished photo of Bill (from their wedding).

Charles was married three times and had six children. 

His first wife, Cory, worked for DC Comics. It was through her that he and Bill met. Charles and Cory had two children, Lorna and Scott, and divorced in 1963.

His second wife was the aforementioned Nancy. They married in 1964, had three children (Kim, Jennifer, and Jason), and divorced in 1969.

He met Gayle Sanders in 1973 and married her 1978. They had a son, Peter. Gayle has been a friend to me almost as long as I've known Charles. Charles didn't email so everything digital went through Gayle.

Charles adopted three of Bill's belongings: a desk, a small sculpture Bill made of his then-wife Portia (which Charles would later give to Athena), and a paperweight (which he kindly gave to me, in July 2006).

I found out about Charles's death two days before the Bronx renamed a street "Bill Finger Way." I contacted him (via Gayle) to remind him of the sign unveiling, but wasn't expecting him to attend (he wasn't able to make the last event I had in New York, in February 2016, because the trip from Brooklyn to Manhattan would've been too exhausting). 

Unfortunately, Charles did not get the chance to watch Batman & Bill (which came out in May) and probably didn't know about the street renaming. It was similar to how Robin co-creator/early Batman ghost artist Jerry Robinson died only six months before my biography of his old colleague and mentor came out. Both men would've been so proud to see their friend get long overdue recognition. 

At school visits, after emphasizing how Bill's story took place a long time ago, I was always so touched to tell kids that both Charles and Lyn were still alive. In a way, I felt their longevity was in part to bear witness to a story that should not be lost.

I interviewed Charles numerous times for the book and twice on camera for the documentary, first in 2008 (for the first iteration, which did not come to pass) and again in 2016. His recall was astounding. His diction was crisp. His geniality was ever-present.

Jim Amash conducted a great interview with Charles, published in Alter Ego #84. Charles is the star of many posts on this blog.

Please read them. 

He, too, deserves to be recognized, and not just because he was always willing to take time to reminisce about Bill (for no gain for himself). He didn't help me because he was old and desperate for something to do. He had plenty to do. At times when I called him he asked me to try again later because he was on his way to the gym.

He helped me because he was a good man. I knew from the moment he first told me a Bill Finger story that I would dearly miss him one day, and that day has arrived. Meeting Charles was the closest thing I had to meeting Bill himself, and he ended up being a friend beyond that.




 2014 (with Athena)

2016 (last time I saw him)

He was a good man.

Charles, I will always be grateful to you. I will speak of you as I do Bill—without fail, with fondness, and with an eye on legacy.

Monday, December 11, 2017

"The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra" original art on display

The prestigious annual Society of Illustrators exhibit "The Original Art" (showcasing illustration from what they feel are the year's best children's books) has included The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra in its 2017 show. I'm so proud of my illustrator Ana Aranda and so honored. 

On 12/6/17, I had the chance to see the exhibit:

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Unveiling of "Bill Finger Way" street sign in New York

Bill Finger made history…multiple times. Including three times (to date) after his death.

  • In 1939, he wrote the first Batman story (after designing the costume).
  • He was the only comic book writer to write an episode of the 1966 TV show.
  • In 2015, he was officially (and finally) named a co-creator of Batman. This is the first time in comics history that the credit line of an A-list character has been corrected.
  • He became the focus of Hulu's first original documentary (Batman & Bill, 2017) which is also the first film based on a nonfiction picture book.

On 12/8/17, Bill Finger made history yet again. He is now the first superhero creator with a street named after him in New York City.

Here is the big moment:

The event began at 10 am and lasted about an hour. The speakers:

  • New York Councilmember Ritchie Torres, whom some predict is a future mayor of New York
  • me
  • Athena Finger, Bill's lone known grandchild
  • Steve Simmons, Bill's stepson (his mother was Bill's second wife, Lyn)
  • Kevin Conroy, voice of Batman in Batman: The Animated Series and multiple series since
  • Angel Hernandez, Director of Programs and External Relations, Bronx Historical Society 
  • a student from PS 46

Here is my speech (courtesy of Steve Ostrower):

Here are all the speeches.

The press/coverage included the following:

Attendees included the following:

  • Benjamin Cruz, Bill's great-grandson
  • Alethia Mariotta, Athena's half-sister
  • Jens Robinson, son of Jerry Robinson, co-creator of Robin and the Joker
  • Travis Langley
  • Lenny Schwartz, playwright, Co-Creator
  • Roberto Williams, playwright, Fathers of the Dark Knight
  • Julian Voloj
  • George Gene Gustines, New York Times 
  • Abraham Riesman, Vulture
  • Rocco Staino, School Library Journal
  • Danny Fingeroth
  • Paul Castiglia 
  • Thomas Sciacca
  • Art Cloos
  • Lucy Aponte, Director of the Poe Park Visitor Center
  • Delmo Walters, Jr.
  • Scout and her mom Stephanie, who came the farthest: Utah
  • my college buddies Mark Lehman and Steve Ostrower

At least two attendees reminded me that I was a bit pushy (my word, not theirs) when I was researching…but they said it with a smile and now have a greater understanding of my rationale. 

After the unveiling, a group (Athena, Benjamin, Alethia, Danny, Travis, and Art) took a tour of Poe's cottage.


amNewYork 12/7/17

Councilmember Ritchie Torres

Athena Finger

Steve Simmons

Kevin Conroy

Looks like I'm grinning back at Bill.

Steve and Athena pulled the string to
unveil the sign.

The joy visible here is precious.

Bill's great-grandson Benjamin

Steve and fellow Finger advocate Travis Langley meeting

George Gene Gustines of the New York Times

Councilmember Torres received this letter from DC Comics
the night before the unveiling. No DC reps that I know of attended.

I was the last person from the unveiling to leave. 
I turned around to take one last photo of the site and
did not see till I checked the photos later that I 
inadvertantly captured someone taking a photo of the 
hours-old sign.

Some photos are courtesy of Julian Voloj…who is in the process of making some Bill Finger history of his own…

I have been lobbying for a NYC memorial to Bill Finger even before my book was out. This process was not easy. But like so much else about this story, persistence finds a way.

My remarks:

My name is Marc Tyler Nobleman. I'm the author of Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, the 2012 biography of writer Bill Finger, and I appear in this year's Batman movie. No, not Justice League. Not The Lego Batman Movie. Not the direct-to-video Batman vs. Two-Face. I'm in the Hulu documentary Batman & Bill

For years I said "Batman's biggest secret is not Bruce Wayne." Not anymore.

Bill Finger wrote the first Batman story in 1939 and hundreds more over the next 25 years—including his heartbreaking (and groundbreaking) origin. He even designed the costume. But his name never appeared in the credit line in his lifetime. Meanwhile cartoonist Bob Kane drew only a fraction of the stories and for only the first few years and did not write a single Batman story in his life, but from the start, he was the sole person credited. Holy fake news, Batman!

This street renaming is a love letter to four B's: Bill, Batman, the Big Apple, and, of course, the Bronx. Bill wasn't born in the Bronx, but Batman was. According to my research, it happened on Kelly Street. Then Bill built the Bat-world from all over the borough.

In 1940-41, Bill lived at 2754 Grand Concourse. In that period, he wrote the first stories with Robin, the Joker, and Catwoman and he named the Batmobile and Gotham City. In 1941-42, he lived at 50 East 196th Street, during which time he wrote the first appearances of the Scarecrow and the Penguin and introduced what he would later name the Batcave. Right here in Poe Park, he and Bob would sit on benches and brainstorm Batman adventures.

But when Bill passed away in 1974 at age 59, many if not most Batmanians had never heard his name. He had no mainstream obituary. No funeral. No gravestone. No kidding.

When I began my book in 2006, I was led to believe he also had no heir. His only child, his son Fred, died in 1992, leaving no offspring known to comics historians.

The biggest moment of my research was when I learned that was not true: Fred did have a child, a daughter, which meant Bill had a granddaughter. I found Athena Finger, then she found the courage to fight along with her sister Alethia for her family's birthright. In 2015, after 76 years of inaccuracy, DC Comics added Bill's name to Batman. Justice has no expiration date.

One of the most instrumental people in my research was Bill's longtime writing partner Charles Sinclair. Charles gave of his time many times to articulately tell me about Bill. Yesterday I learned that on November 15, at age 93, Charles passed away. Let's take a moment to honor Bill's old friend and my new friend Charles.

Thank you all for joining us to celebrate. Fingerheads have come from as far as Utah—anyone farther? Special thanks to Athena and Benjamin for flying in from Florida. We're all indebted to New York Councilmember Ritchie Torres and his staff, especially three R's—Ronn, Rafael, and Raymond—for spearheading this tribute to two of the Bronx's most distinguished sons: the Dark Knight and the mind behind him. Batman is more than one of the world's most successful superheroes. He's one of the most iconic fictional characters of any kind of all time. That makes Bill Finger one of the most influential creators of all time.

He died too soon to see that family and fans have reclaimed his legacy, so the unveiling of "Bill Finger Way" is bittersweet. Bill Finger made history. Team Finger corrected history. Now the Bronx takes lead in honoring that history by installing this sign, the first memorial to a superhero creator in New York, the Superhero Capital of the World. Next step: a statue!

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