Saturday, March 8, 2008

Rebuilding Bill Finger

Let's take a side trip from Cleveland to the Bronx, from Metropolis to Gotham.

Even before I sold Boys of Steel, I knew what I wanted to write about next: Batman. More precisely, the creation of Batman. Even more precisely, the co-creator of Batman whose name is not on every Batman story.

Bill Finger.

Fragments of his story have been told, notably in Men of Tomorrow. But like the hero he molded, so much about Bill remains unprinted: his upbringing, his personal life, the truth about his death, the family he left behind. He died in 1974, too soon to see fandom unite in his honor and demand what they feel is justice: a co-creator credit
or at least more than he's currently getting. (The realities of that will be the topic of future posts.)

I talked to or e-mailed with more than 200 people during an intensive year of research; I've got the Palm entries to prove it. Many of them knew Bill personally. Some, such as Bill's old friend and champion Arnold Drake, have since passed away.

I staked out his former residences, scrolled through decades of New York Times obituaries and microfiched phone books, cold-called every Finger in Florida.

In a series of increasingly more exciting moments, I found the Bill Finger no fan has yet discovered.

I found the one time Bill was quoted in The New Yorker.

I found his only known handwritten note, including signature (more revealing than the 1963 promise to Julius Schwartz that he would not ask for advance checks).

And I found the family no writers before me had talked to, let alone known about. Not first cousins
—though I did find two of those, and incredibly nice ones at that—but rather intimates:

  • His longtime writing partner and friend and class A gentleman Charles Sinclair.
  • His heretofore unmentioned second wife.
  • His sister—who was still alive at age 88 when I found her a year ago this week.
  • His only granddaughter, who is a few years younger than I am.

If you know anything about Bill's immediate family, this last one will make no sense to you. Yet.

This is my plan: as we get close to the August publication of Boys of Steel, I will begin to reveal these never-before-heard stories about the first son of Gotham, Bill Finger.

You've probably seen the only two photographs of him that are perpetually recycled (these scans from Batman: The Complete History and DC Comics: A Celebration of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heroes, respectively):

© DC Comics

There's a third, a grainy photo of him from
Green Lantern #1 (1940), but that's rarely seen.

More than a couple comics historians told me with authority that those are the only Finger photos in existence. What they meant is those are the only known Finger photos in existence. There are more. You just have to ask everyone you talk to.

Of those 200+ people, seven sent me never-published photos of Bill, totalling ten "new" images at Bill Finger from the early 1930s to the late 1960s (even one of his desk). All but one are better quality than the three that have been published.

Here's the one that is not:

I will share more when the time is right.

3/25/08 addendum: I forgot to mention that I got this photo from Bill's second wife. It's the only one she had. "We weren't photo people," she said.


Booksteve said...

Amazing! Makes me want to take my own research to the next level instead of "playing it safe."

Chris Duffy said...

Looking forward to some interesting information! Thanks for being the researcher you are, Marc.

Unknown said...

Looking forward to learning more about Bill's history.

Anonymous said...

Hi Marc,
As I mentioned on the DC Comics message boards, this is really exciting!

Can't wait to hear / see what you found out.

This is a man who needs much more recognition than he currently has.

Truly a Giant in the comics and popular culture field.

All the best,


p2p_productions said...

There's a wonderful BBC documentary (a favourite of mine) that aired in the UK in the late 80s where Fred Finger was briefly interviewed.