Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Now that's a good listener

A big focus of my school presentations is the importance of persistence in the face of rejection. After one presentation, the principal wrote me the following:
Our office manager Brian, his daughter, and his two grandchildren were in the audience for part of your presentation. Brian told me that on the drive home, [his] five-year-old [grandson] James asked his mom for some candy, and she told him no. Every few minutes, James asked again, and again, and again. Finally his mother asked him why he kept asking her when she told him he couldn't have any candy. His response was, "Because the man said if you keep asking, you will get it."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Favorite school slogans #2

Montowese Elementary, North Haven, Connecticut:

Note: This is not a ranking but rather a list in order of discovery.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A nonfiction interview

Donna Bowman Bratton kindly interviewed me about Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman and nonfiction in general.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bill Finger as told by those who knew him well

Early Batman artist/ambassador of comics Jerry Robinson on Bill: “Very soft, kind. Na├»ve, as most of us were. Not outgoing. Reserved but very easy to get to know. We became fast friends. He actually became my cultural mentor.”

“Father of Fandom” Jerry Bails on Bill: “Bill was an avid reader and fan of good fiction, popular fiction, and action movies. He surrounded himself with artifacts and books he loved. He was not a braggart, but was clearly pleased to talk about his creations. He appeared to be more like most comics fans in terms of personality. He lived more in his imagination than in the world of hard knocks. He was not a joke-maker, but he enjoyed telling stories about how he worked. He was very dedicated to his craft. He was not shy, but he would defer to others in conversations. I’d call him considerate and the opposite of overbearing. I had no trouble believing everything he told me.”

Bill’s second wife on Bill: “Very, very warm, very sincere, very hard-working, even though he had problems meeting deadlines. He had a good sense of humor. He was very interested in the theater, and ballet, and classical music. He wouldn’t write any violent comic books. He gave an awful lot of thought to writing.”

Longtime writing partner Charles Sinclair on Bill: “He was the opposite of a sourpuss. Without being wildly jovial, he was a funny guy. Great sense of humor. Liked to joke. He was extremely well read. He deserved a lot better than he got. I enjoyed knowing him, and I miss him.”

Me on Bill: “I miss him, too, even though I never met him. 

Most of these recollections are culled from personal interviews I conducted. The last two lines of Charles’s comments are paraphrased from Alter Ego #84, 3/09.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My first bookstore signing

Fourteen years ago today, on 11/21/96, I did my first book signing at a bookstore, for The Felix Activity Book. (My first book signing ever was shortly before, on 11/9/96, at the Rizzoli Book Fair held at the World Trade Center.)

I was living in New York City at the time. The signing was about two hours away at Millrace Bookshop in Farmington, Connecticut.

This display includes a copy of the cover of my book The Felix Activity Book.

My publicist had arranged for me to take a bus.

I nimbly managed to miss that bus.

After scrambling and realizing that I would not be able to catch another bus (or train) and arrive in time, I was forced to rent a car and drive myself.

It was nerve-racking enough going alone to my own first book signing, but then having to drive a car out of the city (which I’d never done)—pre-GPScompounded my anxiety.

Yet I made it on time and in good shape. Plus people actually showed up. I only wish I took more than the photo above.

The drive home was a victory lap I never could've taken if I was on the bus.

Compare with my first book signing of any kind.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Untold tale of Bill Finger #7: Writing beyond comic books

The non-comics professional writing Bill did included scripts for radio, television (both drama and animation), low-budget science fiction movies (including cult favorite The Green Slime), and army training films. He even published articles on carpentry. More than once he tried to become an editor but was unsuccessful.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

South Dakota Children's Book Awards

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman has been nominated for a 2010-2011 Prairie Pasque Award (grades 3-5), which is run through the South Dakota State Library. Another state I’d love to visit!

The kids vote and the winners are announced every April during National Library Week.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Untold tale of Bill Finger #6: Superman by Bill Finger

Bill Finger is best (un)known for co-creating Batman, but he contributed lasting elements to the Superman mythos as well.

Though kryptonite, Superman’s weakness, was first used on the Superman radio program, Bill was the first to include it in a comic book story; in the same story, Superman reaches perhaps an even more significant milestone: he first learns of his alien heritage. Bill also wrote the story introducing Superman’s first love, Lana Lang.

2/13/22 addendum: The stellar sleuthing of Brian Cronin determined that the first time Batman faced off against Lex Luthor without Superman (Batman #130, 1960) was written by...no drum roll needed...Bill Finger. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

North Haven, CT school visit

After my kickoff school visit of the year, a Connecticut paper ran two photos, which the school was most kind to scan and email:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Turning the Page #1

From 2001 to 2010, I had the honor of volunteering for an enriching New York City program called Authors Read Aloud (part of an organization called Learning Leaders). I was one of a group of authors who visited with students in underfunded New York City schools (mine were always in the Bronx).

Each author would meet with two classes per visit, four times a year; this setup allowed the authors and students to develop more of a personal ongoing relationship. This struck me as the genius of the program. It enabled more growth than a one-off presentation and gave everyone (including the authors) something to look forward to.

During the summer of 2010, I moved from Connecticut to Maryland. Authors Read Aloud doesn't (yet) exist in the Washington DC area. Sad as I was to say goodbye to that program, in my new environment I stumbled upon another program that may help fill that emotional gap.

On 11/4/10, I volunteered for the first time for a Washington DC program called Turning the Page.

It, too, sends volunteer authors to schools in lower-income neighborhoods, but beyond that, the structures diverge.

A Turning the Page author goes to schools after hours, as part of what they call community nights. After we eat dinner together, the author gives a short presentation for the kids—and their parents. Then the kids leave for mentoring while the author conducts a (fairly lengthy, as these things go) Q&A session with just the parents. The families get not only a free meal but also a free, signed book.

And therein lies the genius of this program.

Moms, dads, grandparents, and/or guardians who are actively interested in writing and reading send a powerful message to their kids. Motivated parents = motivated students.

Further, TTP buys a supply of the author's books in advance, and each child whose parent attends the event gets a signed copy at no charge. Before that, however, the books serve vital purpose:

On a side note, my book about Superman has given schools an easy way to promote positive attitude, though each school I've seen pounce on this has gone about it differently. To wit:

As of now, the only TTP-related stumper I'm grappling with is this: Parents who would take the time to attend a TTP event are probably already vested in their children's education. They may still benefit from what an author has to say, but they won't need convincing of the value of their presence there.

So besides food and fun and books, what else can we do to attract the parents who don't go?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Untold tale of Bill Finger #5: Bend him, shape him

Because of Batman’s physical prowess, Bill sometimes jokingly called him "Acro-Batman." In at least one instance (see Batman: The Sunday Classics 1943-46, page 193), Batman referred to himself that way as well.

Surprisingly, "the Dark Knight" was the nickname that really caught on.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Focus on authors' notes

At Simply Donna, I enjoyed a post focusing on authors' notes in books for young people, which, now that I think about it, is a blog topic I've not seen before. I would've enjoyed it even if the author's note from Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman was not one of the ones she mentioned. She describes the story I reveal there as "nothing short of fascinating."

To put it simply: thank you, Donna!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Great ideas for schools #4: Signs of education

At Fiest Elementary in the Cy-Fair school district of Houston, signs outside each classroom remind students that teachers were once students, too.

In doing so, these signs emphasize the value of higher education to kids who are still in primary education.

Every so often during the Q&A at the end of my author visits, a student asks if (and/or where) I went to college. What this shows is that a teacher (or a parent) has already planted the seed of the importance of college in a young mind. These Fiest signs reinforce that every day.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Bobstacle and the Billain

Some Batmaniacs believe that only one obstacle stood between Bill Finger and official co-credit for Batman alongside Bob Kane: Bob Kane. The Bobstacle.

Others might argue that there is another villain in the saga of Bill Finger: Bill Finger. The Billain.
The man with so strong an imagination and so weak an ability to lay claim to it.

In this sense, he was his own archenemy.

To be clear, Finger did publicly reveal his role in the creation of Batman, and I believe it took courage for him to do so. Sure enough, when he did, Kane wrote an open letter excoriating Finger for his long-overdue honesty. This was in 1965, at which point Finger had been hiding in the Batcave, so to speak, for more than twenty-five years. (Clarification: Finger's personal network and other comics creators had known of his Batman work, but fans didn't.) From then on, Finger did publicly take credit for his ideas (while also crediting Kane and others for their contributions).

But what Finger did not do is take a stand against Kane. He took credit but did not demand credit.

Or, to be more accurate, if he ever did do this, there's no known record of it.
(I do have one personal letter that Finger wrote—to be fully shared here as we near publicationin which he claims he spoke firmly to Kane to correct errors of memory, but that doesn't mean he actually did it; even if he did, it didn't improve his overall station.)

But it was neither the Billain nor the Bobstacle who first publicly linked Finger to Batman. That distinction goes to editor Julie Schwartz. In the letter column of Detective Comics #327 (5/64), Schwartz wrote that Finger had "written most of the classic Batman adventures for the past two decades."

(Though Finger was profiled in Green Lantern #1 in 1941, and Batman is mentioned, the piece does not link the two.)

Then in Batman #169 (2/65), Schwartz gave Finger creator credit…for the Riddler. A popular and enduring character, yes, but no Batman. While both Schwartz shout-outs were validating, neither went so far as to call Finger the co-creator of the Dark Knight himself.

In a 1972 interview, Finger said, "Bob Kane was using me as a kind of tool all this time, to bolster his own paycheck." I believe it is Finger's most forceful indictment of Kane on record. (And it's not very forceful.)

After Finger's untimely death in 1974, Carmine Infantino, the then-President of what would soon be renamed DC Comics, wrote in a printed tribute: "Few men have contributed as much to comics as Bill Finger."

To which I add no men have contributed as much to Batman as Bill Finger.

It's just such a shame that Bill could never vanquish the Billain.

1/12/18 addendum courtesy of Robert Greenberger: "Julie Schwartz hadn't paid attention to the Bob Kane stuff back in the '40s since he [Julie] started at All-American. So, in 1964, he gets the Bat-titles and he wasn't really interested, so didn't read up on the character or ask management about their arrangement with Bob Kane. He just knew Kane had x number of pages to produce each month. He brought in Joe Giella to harmonize between Shelly Moldoff's ghosted pencils and Carmine Infantino's 'New Look.' As a result, Schwartz had Batman using a gun in [a] story, a slip up he admitted to. Then in the text page [in 1964, see above], he mentioned Bill Finger, not knowing the company's prohibition about crediting Finger with anything related to Batman. He always told us in the office he got into hot water with management over that, but Kane himself didn't notice or at least didn't complain. That had to wait until the Jerry Bails piece [1965]."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Jerry Robinson on Bill Finger biography

In the interview pioneering Golden Age Batman artist Jerry Robinson gave The Comics Journal in conjunction with his recently released biography Jerry Robinson: Ambassador of Comics, he is asked if he feels any other comics creator of his era also deserves a book:
Maybe a biography of Bill Finger, the writer. Somebody might be working on one. I hope they do.
I've interviewed Jerry myself for that very project, multiple times, starting in 2006. As most anyone in comics knows, he's an unwavering gentleman; for example, in the Comics Journal interview, I think he was simultaneously giving a little plug for and being protective of my book. (
I don't think he knows that it has already been announced; it's due out in 2012.)

I don't mean to make more of that minor mention than it merits. But with all that Jerry has to keep track of in his 88-year-old mind, he
still was able to allude to my book without giving more away. I am impressed, but given his classiness, not surprised.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Houston 2010, week 2 of 2

Houston 2010, week 1 of 2.

Week 2 of 2:

What to do if the wireless microphone is not picking up your voice and is too wee to comfortably hold closer to your mouth for an hour:

Here are books sold at two out of the seven schools this week; note that in the photo immediately below, the book on top of Boys of Steel: The Creators in the foreground is not one of mine:

Favorite instruction from student regarding book signing: "In cursive please."

I learned that Boys of Steel not only was the catalyst for bringing me to this school district but also was of particular inspiration at Danish Elementary, one of its schools. When the Danish administrators and teachers met last school year to discuss the 2010-11 school year, and the fact that I was coming for an author visit came up, they decided the yearlong reading would be superheroes. The principal even ordered the staff corresponding T-shirts. Here is one worn by my most kind host, Lou Canatella:

Thank you, Lou and Cy-Fair, for a fantastic two weeks.