Friday, February 26, 2010

Superman vs. Batman: first to a million

The New York City snowfall is not the only force of nature that broke records this week.

On 2/22/10, Superman made history yet again. A original, high-quality copy of his debut, Action Comics #1 (1938), became the first comic book to auction (to sell, period) for $1 million.

A mere four days later, another historic sale made national news. An also high-quality copy of Detective Comics #27, featuring the 1939 debut of Batman (who was, it should be noted, created in response to Superman), sold for $1,075,500.

In true superhero fashion, neither the buyer nor the seller in either transaction has revealed his (or, less likely, her) identity.

This will not settle the decades-long debate about which character is more popular or "better"...but given my forthcoming news about Batman, I'll take it as a good omen. Batman and omens, they do go together.

Two distinguished benchmarks: Superman was first to a million and Batman was first to surpass it. Again, given Bruce Wayne's wealth, that seems thematically appropriate.

But one inevitable day, someone will break this Batman record. Superman's, however, will always be his. And since he is the world's first traditional superhero, that, too, is only appropriate.

3/30/10 addendum: In a presumably unrelated auction, another copy of Action #1 sold yesterday for $1.5 million. That means three major records were broken within one month.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Is Villainopedia a real web site?

My story "" appears in the 1/22/10 issue of READ (a Weekly Reader publication).

I was so amused to find that someone posted a question on ChaCha ("ur mobile BFF") asking if the site is real. I would think a Google would have been even quicker than a BFF. And I am shocked that someone would know the answer, let alone CheckCheck ChaCha and ChimeChime in!

The answer, BTW, to quote my anonymous eagle-eye: "No, there is no, though there has been a short story written with that as its title."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Two years ago, two days ago

Two years ago today, I launched this blog.

Two days ago, I got wonderful news about one of the projects I launched this blog to discuss.

But I can't announce it in any more detail...yet.

Stay logged in for the beginning of...

Thursday, February 18, 2010


The 1/22/10 issue of READ (the Weekly Reader literary magazine for grades 7-12) includes a six-page story I wrote called ""

Forget black hats. The sign of true evil is purple.

High schooler Brett creates a wiki to profile everyday heroes. When his grandma (who, in her youth, dabbled successfully in burglary) hears that the site has been slow in gaining a following, she suggests he go in the opposite direction because "A story is only as good as its villain."

Thus is born

It catches

And the legendary Travis Pritt, who claims he's committed crimes in 49 states, is not happy that his entry credits him for only 48. After Brett undoes Travis's edit (twice), Travis shows up at Brett's house to ensure that his correction is made...and kept.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

(Motion) picture book biography

I've posted quite a bit on the art form of biography, specifically picture book biography. The gist: it's one of the most vibrant areas in modern publishing (not just children's publishing) and it's becoming more daring with each passing season.

In the 2/22/10 Newsweek, Ramin Setoodeh asks "Are Biopics History?" Online, the same article lays it out more ominously: "The Death of the Biopic." (Click through and check the top bar of your browser.)

The article doesn't mention picture books, of course, yet still calls to mind a post I did on the bold topics nonfiction picture books have covered in recent yearsand by "bold" I mean "unfamiliar." This is the part to which I'm referring:

"Oddly, not all biopics are suffering—just the ones about people you have heard of."

Setoodeh cites recent flops about Amelia Earhart, Charles Darwin, and Orson Welles and hits including Erin Brockovich and The Blind Side (both about people who are not household names—or at least weren't when the films came out).

I believe there is a story to tell about everyone, and there is clear proof that there are multiple ways to tell a story about a famous person. Yet I am more drawn to telling stories that have not been told before, at least not in book form.

Less commercial? So it would seem going in, yet it doesn't always play out that way.

Even notoriously risk-averse Hollywood, on more occasions than perhaps it's given credit for, thinks the same.

Monday, February 15, 2010

"One of the best books that kids actually want to read"

Read Kiddo Read is a fairly new site designed by blockbuster author James Patterson as a tool for parents, teachers, and any other adult who wants to excite kids about reading.

There are, luckily, plenty of other sites with the same goal. They tend to be run by children’s authors and educators, particularly librarians.

What I find especially notable about Read Kiddo Read is that Patterson, of course, writes for adults. It's the only such site I’ve come across that is done in the name of someone who is best known for adult books but who is also focused on hooking them young.

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman is included in its “Great Transitional Book” category (ages 6 and up). The kind Caroline Henley interviewed me about Boys of Steel (describing it ever so kindly as quoted in the title of this post) and Vanished: True Stories of the Missing.

I liked her questions. Some enabled me to get into certain aspects of both books I haven’t commented on publicly before. The site posted both the audio file and a transcription. Thanks Caroline and thanks James!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Red, yellow, and Bluestem

Though the only place I physically traveled to within the past week has been Denver, in a sense I've been jetting from state to various state. (That's routine for Superman—and businessmen—but I'm not used to it.)

On 2/2/10, I posted a list of state book awards for which Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman has been nominated. (The day before that post, I'd learned that the book has been nominated for a biography award in Cleveland, which makes me smile a bit wider since that is where the story takes place. And only two months earlier, I'd learned about the nominations in Rhode Island and Arizona. I had no idea this was "state book awards" season. It's probably not. What do I know? I've never been good with geography.)

Then just since last week, I've learned of three more honors for Boys of Steel, all of which I've added to the 2/2/10 post:

2/6/10—I received a letter from the First Lady of Wisconsin telling me that the book has been selected for the Read On Wisconsin program.

2/9/10—My editor e-mailed that the book was nominated for the Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Awards 2010-2011.

2/10/10—The Illinois School Library Media Association notified me that the book is one of 20 nominated for a first annual award called the Bluestem. It's a reader's choice award, in the hands of kids in grades 3-5.

What I find especially interesting about the Bluestem is that it is not limited to books from the past year or two. Of the inaugural score of books that will be voted on in 2011, the earliest to be published came out in 1982.

If other state awards are like this, I haven't noticed. Like I said, not good with geography.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

First superhero, first biography, First Lady

I'm honored that Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman (the first standalone biography about writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, the young minds behind the world's first superhero) was selected for the 2009-2010 Read On Wisconsin program.

Here is the notification letter from the office of First Lady of Wisconsin Jessica Doyle:

I came across another drop of goodness in America's Dairyland; the youth services librarian of the Matheson Memorial Library in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, kindly blogged the following about the book:

Discuss cataloging of Boys of Steel by Nobleman. Biography—but then which person? Nonfiction—741s?"

In two earlier posts I discussed this issue and am thrilled anytime I am reminded that it's not a discussion of one! I have urged librarians to place it in Biography (and since "Siegel" and "Shuster" are so close alphabetically, it's almost as if it's being shelved under both simultaneously!).

Several posts later at that same link, the Matheson librarian lists Boys of Steel as a newly acquired title at her library, annotating it with this: "Of course, everybody else has their copy of this already..."

Everybody? Would that it were so! But a humbling supposition and one I'll take as a good omen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Read Island

Two newspapers covered my late January
author visits in Rhode Island:

East Greenwich Pendulum, 2/4/10; photo: Rebecca Stearns

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Depression-era teen geeks who still drive Hollywood

When writer Jerry Siegel (at age 19) and artist Joe Shuster (19 or 20) dreamed up Superman in the summer of 1934, they not only created the "modern" superhero but also unwittingly jump-started the comic book industry and—stay with me—built the engine that is currently powering Hollywood.

Hollywood tends to make a majority of its money in the summer and most of its summer money on movies about superheroes
even more acutely in the past decade:

Batman, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man and its sequels, Iron Man, and the X-Men trilogy are only some of the superhero films that became among the biggest hits (in the hottest months) of their respective years.

But these movies might not have happened if not for Superman: The Movie (1978), the first big-budget theatrical release about a superhero.

(I'm not counting the campy 1966 Batman film and the various 1940s superhero serials, but not just because of their lower budgets; Superman: The Movie was the first theatrical release about a superhero done "realistically." Another qualification: although Superman: The Movie debuted in December, most superhero movies in its wake have come out in summer.)

Before Superman: The Movie, Hollywood questioned who besides 10-year-old boys would go to a movie about a comic book character
—especially a comic book character done realistically. (And wouldn't that then also scare off the 10-year-old boys?)

Yet Hollywood did, of course, take the risk on
Superman: The Movie, probably due in some part to the heart of the film—and it wasn't just 10-year-old boys (or comics fans of any age) who made it an epic success.

The simple summary thus far:
  • There might not be big-budget superhero movies without Superman: The Movie.
  • There would be no Superman: The Movie without Superman.
  • There would be no Superman without Jerry and Joe.
And now, even some blockbusters not about superheroes can be traced back to Jerry and Joe.

Avatar and Sherlock Holmes don't feature superheroes as traditionally defined, and Avatar isn't based on material established in another medium, but they are nonetheless among a group described as "comic book movies." (Also, both came out not in summer but during the Christmas season, typically the province of any given year's most prestigious offerings. Maybe that influence of Superman: The Movie has come full circle.)

Other comic book movies include the
Star Trek, Indiana Jones, and Transformers franchises. These properties are based, respectively, on a TV show, adventure movie serials, and a toy line (although for all I know, some of those may have been inspired by comics!).

Today, kids are more likely to discover superheroes via movies, TV shows, or games rather than comics. I can't speculate how Jerry and Joe would've felt about that, though filmed entertainment about superheroes surely does motivate some kids to seek out superhero comics. Anything that gets young people to read is a positive.

In any event, we all want a good story; the Boys of Steel helped prove that a good superhero story is not just for kids
and not just for comics.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Birthplace of Bill Finger

From 2/1 to 2/5, I was in Denver—first time in almost 14 years and first time as an author.

I had the honor of speaking at two branches of the Denver Public Library (to some of the most invested kids I've met recently), a lively school, and the well-run Colorado Council International Reading Association annual conference.

Most biographical sources on Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator and original writer of Batman, state he was born in New York, but it was Denver. I imagine it still felt like the Wild West when Bill entered the world there in 1914 because parts of it still felt like the Wild West last week.

Though this is unlike me, I got no photos at my speaking events; however, I did snap one of this sign in my hotel, finding it clever:

Miscellaneous mile-high observations:
  • For the first time, I saw a school gym that was carpeted.
  • I forgot how thirsty you wake up when high up.
  • Though not good with directions, I found navigating the Denver airport easy and quick. Then again, it was 5 a.m.
  • No Dunkin' Donuts or Chase Bank, which I suppose is a fair balance since in parts of the Northeast you encounter one of each on every other block.
  • In Colorado, it's illegal to warm up a car without staying in it. However, I didn't learn this the hard way.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bill Finger Appreciation Group on Facebook

I'm long overdue in this announcement: Facebook has a Bill Finger Appreciation Group, with well over 100 members. And also a newer group called, simply, Bill Finger, with, curiously, even more members.

I say "curiously" because the first group offers a regularly updated stream of well-researched content; the second group is a place where fans have proclaimed their respect for Finger but have not, as of yet anyway, displayed anything archival.

two Finger appreciation groups! This for a man who died without comment from the press. I'm a member of both.

The BFAG is run by a class act named Derek Wolfford, who kindly (a word I overuse, I know, but will continue to) interviewed me in Nashville. He is steadily and capably compiling a time capsule about/memorial to/compendium on Finger, pulling material on him from various hard-to-find sources and presenting it all in one place. In a short while, I hope to be able to add to that with posts here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Boys of States

Kind readers in Utah, Rhode Island, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Arizona have nominated Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman for state book awards, and Wisconsin has been kind to it, too:
Also, the book was selected for the Read On Wisconsin program, which is run through the office of the First Lady of Wisconsin (currently Jessica Doyle). Each year, this program designates a book for every month of the upcoming school year and for the summer in one of five categories (ages 0-4, grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12). Boys of Steel is the summer 2010 pick for grades 3-5.

Note: I am adding to this post if I learn about other state awards that have nominated the book.