Thursday, July 29, 2010

Superman saves family...

...from becoming homeless.

This not only makes you feel good but also makes you wonder how many more copies of Action #1 are out there, waiting to be discovered.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Jerry Siegel wrote to "The Buyer's Guide" in 1975

These letters about (and one by) Jerry Siegel are from The (Comic) Buyer's Guide #109, 12/19/75.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Garden State Children's Book Awards 2011

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman has been nominated for the 2011 Garden State Children's Book Awards in the non-fiction category. Thank you, New Jersey!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Finger Tip #10: The most startling Finger

A short biographical sketch of Bill Finger appears in Green Lantern #1 (1941). In it, Bill is referred to as an “only son.” This colored my thinking for a while, but then I realized that “only son” does not automatically mean “only child.”

Turns out Bill had a sister, younger than him, born in 1918.Bill was born in Colorado but his sister (if I had the timeline correct) would’ve been born in New York. Yet searching in 2006, I found no record of her in the New York City Birth Indexes of 1918-1920. A reference librarian told me that it was rare for someone not to appear in the index.

So I made a list.

reasons why Bill's sister may not be in NYC Birth Indexes:

  • she was not born in NYC, although that seems unlikely
  • her paperwork got lost in the influenza epidemic of 1918
  • her family didn’t file her birth (could she have been born at home?)
  • she was born under another name (i.e. to a family member or friend, and the Fingers immediately adopted her?)
  • the name I had for her was actually her middle name or nickname
  • she was not who I thought she was

Then I checked the Death Indexes from 1930 to 1982. (I didn’t note why I stopped with 1982.) She didn’t appear in any of those, either.

reasons why Bill's sister may not be in NYC Death Indexes:

  • she is, but under a married (or otherwise changed) name I don’t know
  • her death went unreported
  • she died after 1982
  • she died outside NYC
  • she isn’t dead

In other words, all I confirmed is that no one with the name of Bill’s sister died in NYC between 1930-1982.

But then, half a year later, through totally different circumstances, and to my own great surprise, I tracked her down.

And she was alive.

I noted at the time that there were “probably no other people I could find that I would be as excited about.” Yet that had less to do with what she told me than with how I found her.

I can’t yet say how I learned of her, how I found her, or what she told me. As we get closer to the July 2012 publication of the book, I will share the story.

In the meantime, what I can say is that she was, in one sense, my biggest find in that she was the still-living person who knew Bill the earliest.

7/9/12 addendum: Because of the way the earliest biographical sketch of Bill Finger was worded, I originally thought Bill was an only child. Then I learned he had a younger sister. Then via the 1940 census, which was made public in April 2012, I learned Bill had a second younger sister...Gilda, born about 1930.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Finger Tip #9: The most mysterious Finger

In researching Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator and original writer of Batman, I found a lot of Fingers.

Only one Finger gave me the finger (figuratively).

Here’s what went down:

Bill’s family was Jewish and living in the Bronx for most of Bill’s formative years. During my research, a Bronx historian told me that when Bronx Jews left the Bronx, most went to either New Jersey or Florida. I started with Florida.

On 8/19/06, I cold called dozens of Floridian Fingers. I was proud that none hung up on me. But one was a strange flamingo indeed.

After I got out my clumsy introduction (“Hi, I’m an author of children’s books researching the co-creator of Batman, whose last name is also Finger and who was from the Bronx…”), she said her family was also from the Bronx. But she didn’t want to say more before speaking to “the men,” who weren’t there at the time. She suggested I call back midweek, which I did.

And so began the dodge.

I got the machine, multiple times. But on 8/29/06, she answered. And so deepened the mystery.

She said that “they” were also working on a book and that “the lawyer” advised her to be polite but not to help me. This, of course, seemed to confirm that she was related to my Finger. I asked for her e-mail so I could send her background on me that I hoped would assure her I was legitimate, but she said “not at this time.”

Yet she did say I could try back in a few weeks at which time she would see if there was anything she could tell me.

I said I doubted our books would be competition because mine would be in an all-ages picture book format (the inference being that hers would not). I said that I’d found some members of the extended family that I’d helped reconnect and could do the same with her, but she said they knew everyone they wanted to…

…which suddenly confirmed that she was not family. If she truly was from the branch I wanted, I most likely would’ve already heard about her from the others I’d found. But when I asked them about her, none knew who she was. Learning that she had not been in touch with anyone I had made me feel better.

I asked her name, figuring she would keep mum like she did with her e-mail, but she said did give me one. (And it checked out online.)

On 9/20/06, I called again. This time her husband answered. He said she wasn’t home and he didn’t know about the Bill Finger issue because she was working on that.

I left two voice mails over the next few months. No one called back.

On 1/6/07, I called again. The husband was courteous but said he didn’t think his wife was “interested” or else she would’ve “dealt with me by now.”

Interested? I wasn’t selling something. I was merely looking for information.

The next day, I mailed her a letter to explain myself better than I felt I’d been able to do on the phone. I also sent several of my books. I did not hear back.

I left my last message on 7/2/07. But in recounting this story, I now feel like I should try again…

Saturday, July 3, 2010

How you found me: part 6

This is the sixth installment of some of the zaniest search terms that have sucked people to this blog:
  • things children don’t want [MTN: I write books for young people. Therefore, this is not confidence-boosting.]
  • vomiting first week at school [MTN: I would think this would fall under the category of the first bullet.]
  • an event coordinator checklist for a city fair
  • ocean state wacky packages
  • shave on yahrzeit
  • the best picture books for older readers of all time [MTN: Is “of all time” misplaced...or does s/he really mean to refer to readers throughout the full span of history?]
  • things for bored teenagers to do in Cleveland
  • non-boring presentation for companies
  • Marc Tyler Nobleman Visa commercial [MTN: I'm unaware that I made one.]
  • a 12-year-old boy trying to steel a older black ladys purse [sic, and I don't approve (of either the idea or the grammar)]
  • how do people grow to 6'10" [MTN: No idea. Want proof? Meet me.]
  • nobleman can’t tell the difference between work and play [MTN: I wonder if this was my wife's Google...]

Friday, July 2, 2010

Dear I Don't Know Your Name

In researching Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, I mailed a letter to a person whose name I didn't know. All I did know is that I needed to reach the people who currently lived in the Cleveland house in which Jerry Siegel had been living when he dreamed up Superman in 1934.

This having been the simpler days of 2005, I didn't yet know the easy ways I could have used to find out the names (and phone number) of the people who lived there. So I used postal mail, sending my letter to "Resident":

August 1, 2005

10622 Kimberly Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44108-2740

Hello, My name is Marc Nobleman. I'm a writer who has published more than 50 books for young people. I recently sold a picture book manuscript to Random House about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who, as you probably know, were the teenagers who created Superman in the 1930s.

Is it right that Jerry Siegel lived at your address at this historic moment? If so, I would like to take a few photographs of the exterior of your house to help the illustrator create more accurate drawings for the book. I live in Connecticut but will plan a short trip to Cleveland in the fall for this purpose.

Also, do you know if the house exterior looks the same as it did in the 1930s? And I know Jerry used to work in his attic bedroom-is the structure of the interior the same as well? If so, would you permit me to take a few photographs inside that room? 

You may contact me at xxx-xxx-xxxx--just give me your number and I will call you right back so you don't have to pay long distance charge. Or you can e-mail me at 

Seeing this now, it's odd that I posed certain research questions to the current residents when I'd already confirmed the answers; further, if I hadn't, there would've been better sources.

I did not hear back. And my trip didn't end up happening until January 2007. In preparation, I wrote another letter (so apparently I had still not learned what now seems like basic research strategies!). This one, however, I planned to place on the doorstep along with a couple of the books I'd written:

January 30, 2007 

Hello, My name is Marc Nobleman. I’m the author of more than 60 books for young people; I also write for Nickelodeon Magazine. Recently I wrote a children’s picture book about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who, as you probably know, were the teenagers who created Superman in the 1930s. It is due out in early 2008.

The book is not yet illustrated. I live in Connecticut and flew to Cleveland today (Tuesday, January 30) to take photographs of Superman sites.

Could I come by sometime between now and Friday morning to take a few photos of your house? One of the key scenes in my book shows Jerry working in his attic bedroom, so I need images of both that room and the view from its window. These photos will NOT be published in the book—they are ONLY to give visual reference to the illustrator.

I am in town only until Friday morning, February 2. Please call my cell at xxx-xxx-xxxx if you will allow me to do this. I promise this will take only a few minutes—I don’t want to get in your way. 

P.S. If you have kids, I will send you more of my books as a small gesture of thanks for your kindness.

I've already told the story of what happened next.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Cos Cob Elementary School

Here's a simple way to determine the quality of an elementary school: pay attention to what's on the walls in the halls.

I usually don't blog about topics not directly related to my work, but I must make an exception to praise the school that shepherded my daughter through kindergarten. (Well, I do speak in schools, and this one was one of them, so in that sense it is related.)

This school, in Cos Cob, Connecticut, impressed me in numerous and perpetual ways:

  • getting kindergartners to go up on stage and speak before an the third week of school (they had to share one thing they wanted to learn during the school year; my daughter said "how a spider spins its web")
  • keeping a journal to track their own development in words and art month by month throughout the school year
  • emphasizing character by asking parents to give their children a "drop" when they acted kindly, but not just by saying "please"—the acts had to go beyond the expected; the drops filled a bucket (in the form of a wall hanging) that was half the size of a car; that's a lot of kindness
  • running an in-depth lesson on the post office, including a field trip to one and the designing of their own postage stamps; plus they both wrote and asked to receive letters
  • encouraging students to both eat healthily and bring their lunches in reusable containers
Among many other facets.

Credit goes to the progressive and challenging teacher our daughter had as well as the wonderfully attuned principal and other visionaries on staff, including the art teacher and the librarians.

But again, we knew the school was top-notch even before all this happened.

We saw the hall walls.

They're brimming with dynamic creations, the kind of projects that let children freely express rather than fill in predetermined lines. And it's more than the art itself
—it's that the school takes the time to exhibit it.

It's a museum with a gymnasium.