Monday, September 20, 2010

Odd observational overlap: Finger and Weisinger

In 1965, Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator and original writer of Batman, gave an interview which led to an article that (who knows when) went missing for decades.

In 2009, I was finally able to obtain a copy of that article. In doing so, I saw that it was the source for several previously unknown quotations in Batman: The Complete History. (In 2008, I'd asked the author, Les Daniels, but he didn't recall where he'd gotten them from nor had he saved his notes.)

There is much else to discuss about the article, but since it’s not been published yet, I have to hold off on most of it for now. In the meantime, one odd observational overlap.

In the article, Finger is quoted as saying, “The artist is important, certainly. But in working with him you are all at once at the same time writer, director, artist (in visualizing the scene), prop man, dialogue man, and in a sense cameraman in describing angles and focal points of attention for various panels.”

The summer of that year, Finger made his first professional appearance at what most consider the first official comics convention and sat with three other comics professionals on the first creators panel. The panel is transcribed in Alter Ego #20 (1/03).

One of those fellow panelists was DC Comics editor Mort Weisinger. One of his comments during the panel is as follows: “So, when you are a writer in this business, you have to be a combination of photographer, artist, director, dialogue man, prop man.”

The Weisinger version is, without question, a direct quotation; the panel was transcribed from an audio recording. The Finger version appears in quotation marks in the original article. While there’s always a chance he was misquoted or that the words were outright fabricated, both scenarios seem unlikely to me.

These quotations are not identical, and not especially profound, so I am not filing an accusation of high plagiarism. Yet the similarity of the statements does strike me as odd for two reasons: they come from the same year and both men were present when one said his.

That makes it a question of timing.

We don’t know precisely when Finger made his statement whereas Weisinger’s can be pinned down to the day. So we don’t know who said it first, and therefore, we don’t know if one was a conscious or subconscious lift of the other rather than a coincidence.

Another timeline puzzler tomorrow.


J. L. Bell said...

Wasn't Weisinger criticized for taking ideas from one writer and giving them to another?

Then again, the whole field is known for collaborative art rather than solo creations.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

I have heard that about Weisinger.

As you'd probably guess, I am assuming that Finger said it first, meaning Weisinger then blithely repeated it in front of him. (Perhaps Finger didn't remember that he said it or Weisinger didn't realize that he was cribbing it.)

Tony Isabella said...

I'd go with Finger saying it first. "Uncle Mort" was a notorious rat bastard who bullied his freelancers and often appropriated their ideas, claiming them as his own.

Richard said...

"Perhaps Finger didn't remember that he said it or Weisinger didn't realize that he was cribbing it."

Or perhaps Weisinger simply kept to his longstanding habit of intimidating writers and was sure Finger wouldn't challenge him because "nobody likes a rat"? Doing this right in front of Finger and knowing the guy wouldn't let out a peep might have made it even more satisfying for him.

Boswell said...

I recently listened to a recording of this panel and was struck by Finger’s presentation. From everything that I have read – including most of what passes for “research” – I expected a dejected, beaten man – embittered by a lifetime of being denied credit for Batman. In fact, it was surprising that Finger would even share the stage with Weisinger, a Vice President at what was then National Comics. But it was anything but that. After being introduced to the crowd as having been the writer on Batman “from the very first” (yes, the secret was out), Bill was positively ebullient – never showing even a hint of bitterness when answering questions, whether he was describing the writing process or telling an amusing anecdote. He was excited to be there, with the fans, and to share with them his joy at being a writer in a medium he loved. Not remotely what I expected.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Boswell, thanks for chiming in. Where did you hear the recording?

In my book, which quotes the “very first” line you do, I did not describe Bill as dejected or beaten, though I do mention that he was frustrated (as per Jerry Robinson, among others who knew him personally). When I speak on this topic, I point out how professional Bill was when in 1965 he stated for the first time on record that he, too, had been involved with Batman from the beginning—he expressed no hostility toward Bob, no self-pitying. (Not that one could blame him if he did.)

I believe the spirit in which he presented himself at that historic 1965 panel demonstrates the same thing: unyielding professionalism. I also believe it hid a deep disappointment that he carried—though rarely discussed, even in private—throughout his career.

Boswell said...

There is a copy of it on reel-to-reel tape in the Weisinger Collection at the University of Wyoming.