Thursday, May 31, 2012

Not only what Finger did, what Kane did NOT do

To those who would argue anything other than Bill Finger’s name first is the only proper Batman credit, we must remind ourselves not only of what Finger did (design the costume, write the first story, dream up the groundbreaking origin, build the bat-motif, write the debuts of Robin, Joker, Catwoman, Penguin, and others) but also what Bob Kane did not do (write a single Batman story).

Artist Jerry Robinson, who (professionally) went as far back with Finger and Kane as possible, said that Finger “had more to do with the molding of Batman than Bob.” But you don’t need to take even his word for it since Kane himself admitted as much in his 1989 autobiography.

And this quotation (which I have posted here before but which bears much repeating) from Finger friend and fellow Golden Age writer Alvin Schwartz is perhaps even more telling: “Without Bill Finger, there wouldn’t have been any Bob Kane.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bill Finger and a potentially gay Green Lantern

Recently DC Comics announced that one of their top-tier male properties, previously heterosexual, would be reintroduced as gay. Comics press speculation points heavily toward Alan Scott, AKA the original Green Lantern, whose original writer was Bill Finger.

1941 Alan Scott debut

2012 Alan Scott re-debut

Just because it’s proving to be an effective PR hook doesn’t mean there wasn’t an organic reason for going this route. As always, what matters most is the story: it must be good.

What would Bill Finger think of one of his creations coming out? Because he died in 1974, we will never know.

However, I suspect he would have been more at peace with it than many of his generation (born 1914) at least in part because Bill’s only child, Fred, was gay, and his first wife Portia had a strong connection to the gay community.

I have been told that Bill did struggle with Fred’s homosexuality to some degree, but I don’t know if it was ongoing or only for a period immediately after Bill found out. Despite some indications of semi-estrangement, I do believe that ultimately, the relationship between Bill and Fred was one of mutual respect.

If the character in question does prove to be Alan Scott, it will mean that two of Bill Finger’s sons were gay. Of course Bill didn’t choose the sexual orientation for either, but somehow it still makes him seem progressive, like so much else about his work.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Siegel and Shuster action figures (mail-in bonus: Bill Finger!)

Over the last fifteen years, the range of action figures produced has diversified in wild ways, in part thanks to companies like McFarlane Toys, NECA, and Accoutrements. It's not just G.I. Joe and Star Wars anymore:

Because of this, and because of Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman and Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, I was inspired to pitch the idea of superhero creator action figures, starting, of course, with Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, and Bill Finger. Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde got the nod, so why not some 20th century creatives with significant cultural impact?

Action figures are traditionally a province of superheroes, so it’s a no-brainer both thematically and strategically to give creators of some of these characters the same treatment. Plus such figures could be put to good use beyond pleasing fanboys.

Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, and their families have been involved in litigation over Superman on and off since 1947; Bill Finger never got that far. A portion of proceeds of figures made of them could go toward legal fees or simply into a fund for the heirs. Would not be big money, but every little bit helps.

What do you think?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

“Short Interviews with Interesting People”

Checkpoint, a new site that promotes “Short Interviews with Interesting People,” kindly interviewed me about Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.

Extra points for titling it “NobleBatman.”

An excerpt:

What prompted you to write your latest book, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman?

As a lifelong superhero fan, the chance to write professionally about Batman (like Superman before him) was in the “dream come true” neighborhood. As an author, the chance to write a story about a subject well known in one respect but completely mysterious in another was an exhilarating challenge. As a marketing person, the chance to write a nonfiction book on a subject that hasn’t been the focus of its own book before was strategically appealing.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

" memorable...will make the lasting impression he deserves"

The first official review!

Kirkus Reviews 5/15/12

It turns out that Batman—the orphaned, shadowy, well-heeled defender of an embattled Gotham—had another embarrassment of riches: two fathers.

Spend any time with Batman in DC Comics and you will have seen it: “Created by Bob Kane.” Only half true. Cartoonist Bob did come up with a prototype, but it was writer Bill Finger who fashioned Batman into the night-tripping, class-and-trash, hero-and-villain intimidator in the pointy-eared cowl whom we have come to love, the superhero without superpowers. This testament to credit due from Nobleman is seriously researched—as the six-page author’s note attests—yet light on its feet, and the artwork from Templeton has all the lush, emotive brushwork one expects from Batman. But what makes this sketch of Finger so memorable is its intimacy with the characters, the way in which it coaxes out an engaging vulnerability in Finger and, by association, with Batman. “Bob’s greatest talent may have been the ability to recognize other talent. His greatest flaw may have been the inability to honor that talent. Bill’s greatest flaw may have been the inability to defend his talent. His greatest talent was the ability to forge legends.”

Though Finger has been a known commodity to comics cognoscenti for years, this salute in his own format will make the lasting impression he deserves. (Graphic biography. 8 & up)

[Emphases mine.]

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Reactions to my Nevada Reading Week keynote and workshops

On 2/11/12, I spoke three times at my third Nevada Reading Week Conference in Reno. The theme was “Make a Date with History,” and I felt right at home because I do that for a living.

After, the organizers of the conference send the presenters feedback from the attendees; it comes anonymously on thin handwritten slips.

This year, I gave a diverse, hourlong keynote; a small part of it was my story of trying to publish a story I’m particularly passionate about.

Of all the topics I covered, I was thrilled to see that many people enthusiastically singled out that story, Thirty Minutes Over Oregon.

Here are some of my favorite comments about the book-to-hopefully-be:

Selected transcriptions (Thirty Minutes Over Oregon):

"Very interesting
—this is great history no one knows about. I hope it will be published soon."

"I am interested in Thirty Minutes Over Oregon. Hopefully it will be published."

"Want to read Thirty Minutes Over Oregon."

"Especially poignant was the publishing process story of the Japanese [pilot] who bombed Oregon."

"The Japanese bomber story was amazing."

"Hope the Oregon book goes public."

"Loved his story about
Thirty Minutes Over Oregon and hope it gets published."

"Interesting Oregon bombing story!"

"The sad story of a great story not yet finding a publisher."

This round bodes
as well as the first in assuring me that a sizable and eager audience does indeed exist for this story.

The other keynote feedback I was fortunate to receive was as humbling; a selection:

Selected transcriptions (keynote):

—Marc was awesome...he has done some awesome research to share with the world."

"Great stories. Human side of writers. Humble. Caring. Genuine."

"Second time I've seen him
—just as good as the first! Superheroes are not my thing but Marc made them so interesting."

"Great speaker! What a charming story."

"Great storyteller! Can't wait to read his books!"

"Interesting, inspiring, thorough, and clever."

"Riveting keynote!"

"He is funny! Great presenter!"

"Marc so naturally brought forth his passion...also he certainly show[ed] how caring for others brings satisfaction."

"Terrific comic book and superhero historian."

"Very entertaining. Great details. Interesting information. Very thorough."

"It made me want to buy his books. His humor was fun."

"Loved the show of emotion."

"Quite an entertaining talk!"

"I enjoyed his passion."

"Wonderful humor."

"He was real and used material that was important and relevant to students."

"Excellent. Very interesting!"

"Loved his honesty as a writer."

"Very funny and entertaining...also very passionate."

"Overall terrific presentation."

"Extremely interesting."

Selected feedback on my workshops:

Selected transcriptions (workshops):

"Another excellent presentation by Marc Tyler Nobleman."

"Engaging speaker. Great stories."

"Energizing and delightful."

"Very enjoyable. Will be looking at his blog!"

"Encouraging and creative ideas to use nonfiction in the classroom."

"Marc gives great, specific details. Wonderful presenter!"

Thank you again for having me, NRW. You know I will come back anytime.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Celebrity doppelgangers

Authors’ public presence is usually low-watt compared to other entertainers such as actors and musicians. Most authors do not get recognized on the street. Certainly not this one:
 But at some point, most of us hear that we look like someone famous. Over the years, I’ve gotten a broad range. While I was flattered by most of these impressions, frankly, I didn’t see it with any of them beforehand.

According to camp friends in 1987:

Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick)

Don’t always remember who said it, but have gotten most of these multiple times (coincidentally, all are comedians):

Bob Saget

Ben Stiller

Jerry Seinfeld

Seth Meyers

Will Arnett

B.J. Novak

Paul Rudd

According to kids at schools I’ve spoken at since 2008:

Tom Cavanaugh

Steve Nash
Wolverine (Hugh Jackman; I’m laughing, too;
granted I don’t shave every day, but still…)

Superman (yes, laughing again, 
but at the same time, honored)

According to a four-year-old I know:

Sean Hopper (Huey Lewis and the News)

According to a TSA agent in Dallas, 5/6/15:

Doug Flutie

According to the publicity department at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 5/5/17:

Hank Azaria

And still more:

Walton Goggins

 Rick Springfield

Oh, to be completist, a high school friend said the guy at the end of this commercial reminded her of me:

Monday, May 21, 2012

"The Dark Knight Rises" and "Bill the Boy Wonder"

Batman is one of our greatest fictional champions of justice, so it is cruelly ironic that the story of where he came from hides a gross injustice: the man largely responsible for him receives no official credit.

What’s more, co-creator and original writer Bill Finger is the one who first called Batman “the Dark Knight,” yet Bill’s name will not appear in the credits of The Dark Knight Rises (nor did it in The Dark Knight). The nickname “Dark Knight” is so iconic that the word “Batman” doesn’t even need to appear with it; meanwhile, the mind behind it is left in the dark.

Yet I came up with one way to link Bill with the movie and hopefully do some good for my book in the process.

I individually e-mailed the following flyer to hundreds of independent bookstores across the country:

Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman publishes July 1.

The Dark Knight Rises opens July 20.

My proposed course of action for the bookstores is simple:

  1. Ask the nearest cinemas if they will hand out the flyer to people who buy tickets to TDKR.

That’s it.

If even the smallest fraction of moviegoers goes for the same-day incentive, I’d consider this effort a success. In part that is because the smallest fraction of the projected audience of the movie—1.939 zajillion—is several nations unto themselves.

As it stands, I couldn’t figure how to extra-sweeten the deal for the cinemas…but they have nothing to lose, either.

Perhaps they’ll view this as value-added, serving their customers some historical perspective with their blockbuster. Perhaps they’ll feel a moral obligation to do their part for Finger when so many (but not Finger) will be making so much on his genius. Perhaps they just like Batman.

Bookstores, if you set the discount, and cinemas, if we provide the flyers, whos in?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

"In terms of sheer goofy charm, it’s hard to resist"

Newsarama kindly mentioned my trailer for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman. But since when is dressing up in purple gloves and question marks goofy?

6/13/14 addendum: Glad I snagged the quotation when I did because the link is now down...

Friday, May 18, 2012

Who created the creators?

On 10/28/11, Alvin Schwartz, Golden Age Superman and Batman writer and friend of Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator of Batman, passed away at 94.

Less than a year earlier, Alter Ego (#98, 12/10) ran an interview with Alvin that included some gems.

Schwartz said that Bob Kane, artist given sole official credit for Batman, flat-out “couldn’t draw.” (Others have said as much, but none with Alvin’s endearing bluntness.)

I already touched on another gem from this interview, but it bears repeating, this time with a pinch of set-up:

We’ve heard opinions like “Without Bill Finger, there wouldn’t have been any Batman” and, regrettably, “Without Bob Kane, there wouldn’t have been any Bill Finger.” But here’s a gutsy new take, courtesy of Schwartz:
“Without Bill Finger, there wouldn’t have been any Bob Kane.”

I interviewed Alvin several times for my Finger book, and I could be intimidated by his deepitude. He routinely made keen observations that could turn party lines inside out.

Also in the Alter Ego interview, Schwartz said “Bill was never mean about Bob.” Sadly, the reverse was not true.

In a now-infamous 9/14/65 letter to Biljo White, editor of the fanzine Batmania, Bob vehemently tried to deny Bill’s then-recent “confession” that he, Bill, had a significant role in the creation of Batman:

“I challenge Bill to repeat those statements in front of me. … The truth is that Bill Finger is taking credit for much more than he deserves, and I refute much of his statements…”

Bob then tussles with his conscience, but keeps it deliberately fuzzy: “…in all fairness to Bill, I will admit he was influential in aiding me in shaping up the strip, and there are certain characters Bill created, aside from my main characters and many other characters that I created, including the Batmobile. It’s been 25 years now, and truthfully, time sometimes blurs the memory and it is difficult to separate, at times, the myth from the truth, so that I cannot blame Bill too much if at times his memory ‘clouds.’”

But you should have blamed yourself.

Then Bob goes back for another potshot: “Your article [about Bill’s contribution to Batman] is completely misleading, loaded with untruths fed to you by Finger’s hallucinations of grandeur.”

Finally, when asked who came up with the initial idea for Batman, Schwartz takes a stance more radical than most: “I can tell you this: it was Bill. Bob never had any ideas. He really was a man with very little taste…”

Years after Bill died in 1974, his old friend Alvin (like Jerry Robinson) evolved into one of Bill’s most fervent public advocates. Alvin was especially important because he could speak out on Bill’s behalf from personal experience.

Maybe now Bill has been able to thank Alvin for that.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Peter David tweets about "Bill the Boy Wonder"

On 5/1/12, fan-favorite comic book writer Peter David (whom I don't know personally) kindly tweeted several times about Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman:

Thank you Peter.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Low-grade curiosity

In researching Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, I spoke with hundreds of people, several dozen of whom I “formally” interviewed. I was surprised at how few asked me how I found them, especially because many of them were not simply a Google away and are probably aware of that. I don’t know if they just didn’t think to ask me, or if they simply didn’t care—but it’d be one of the first questions I'd ask if someone came ‘round to question me (and I didn’t have a blog making the answer obvious).

Perhaps these people were not under-curious. Perhaps I’m just over-curious, preoccupied with sublevels of information that others don’t bother with because they understand that there’s no practical use for that information.

Another example: my massive blog series featuring interviews with and previously unpublished photos of 100 “lost” superhero stars of the ‘70s and ‘80s required lots of hunting…sometimes so deep I couldn’t see two feet behind me.

Yet the kind folks who ultimately helped me reach particularly obscured performers including Garrett Craig
, Larry Marks, and Austin Roberts did not ask me how I knew to ask them. And look at how common those three names are—they are all over the Internet. Plus the people I was asking did not always share the same last name as my quarry. (In other words, I presumed that the people I was asking would realize that I would have had to do more than casual research to make that connection.)

I’m not judging. I’m just different. It’s an occupational perk.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Behind the “Bill the Boy Wonder” book trailer

Without my longtime friend Christian, my book trailer for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman would have looked like the one for Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman.

In other words, there wouldn’t be one.

This trailer is not the first big project Christian and I have undertaken together. We go back to a Styrofoam-ball solar system in fourth grade. Maybe you haven’t heard of it.

The trailer contains a few bloopers we know of and likely more we don’t. As for the former:

  • Riddler’s costume does not have enough question marks. (I imagined we’d see only the forearm in his shot but we end up seeing some of his shoulder, too.)
  • Did you spot the stray Whole Foods paper bag?

Not a blooper, but the man-on-the-street interviews contain a bit too much product placement. (Yet no payola.)

I wanted the Riddler scene to take place at night but it would have looked too dark without proper lighting (which we didn’t have).

We wanted to use an 8½ x 11 green envelope for Riddler’s note; that would’ve allowed Robin to remove the note without having to unfold it. However, I couldn’t find such an envelope in time.

In the “Robin approaching” shot, I was worried that the reflective Nike logo on the black running pants I was wearing would be visible. It was not.

In the Batcave computer room shot, I was worried that the cursor on the computer screens would be visible. It was not.

We didn’t shoot consecutively so I attempted to keep my stubble consistent. I think I failed, however.

The two buttons (Batman logo and MTN) were color printouts taped over Staples Easy buttons.

The paper didn’t adhere evenly to the buttons, so if the lighting were any better in that scene, the whole thing would’ve looked even cheesier.

It was hard to make out, but the ringing cell phone said “Batman.” If we had zoomed in any closer, it would’ve been too blurry.

It was daytime when we shot me looking out the window at the MTN-Signal, which is in the night sky. Clumsy filmmaking or subtle joke?

The quality of the Bill Finger voiceover is as good as we could get; it came from a reel-to-reel tape from 1972. It’s the first time the public has heard Bill’s voice.

I discovered the song “Try” in 1994 when it appeared in the “World Happiness Dance” scene of an episode of My So-Called Life. In the pre-Internet age, I had to buy a guy at ABC dinner for getting back to me with the name of the song (which, as I recall, wasn’t identified in the credits).

The man-on-street, Marc-on-the-street, Wayne Manor gate, “Batman calling,” and “calling Batman” scenes were shot in Maryland.

The Batcave and walking-to-car scenes were shot in Virginia.

Here’s where we went to dinner after the third (of three) shoots:

Yes, I was still wearing my Robin shirt. No, this was not planned.


$144.30 supplies (primarily the costumes and the Staples Easy buttons)
$56.93 craft services (i.e. a couple of dinners for my crew, AKA Christian)

$201.23 total

Time put in (not counting undocumented prep time, drive time):

4 hours shooting 2/25/12
1 hour shooting 4/10/12
2 hours shooting 4/18/12
6 hours editing 4/22/12
1 hour editing post-4/22/12

14 hours total

I chose Riddler for the villain for several reasons:

  • It lent itself the best to the set-up—namely, posing to Batman (and by extension the viewer) the question/riddle “Who created you (Batman)?”
  • The Riddler costume is easily recognizable when only a fragment of it is shown.
  • The Riddler was created by Bill Finger.

Monday, May 14, 2012

First time presenting at the International Reading Association Convention

Last summer, I submitted two proposals for the 2012 IRA Convention. One was a lively panel of authors of picture book nonfiction called “But Kids Haven’t Heard of That: Why Teaching Unconventional Nonfiction Is Important.” The other was a variation on a popular workshop I give nationwide. It’s normally “The Language of Cartoons”; I renamed this version “Teaching with Humor.”

I’d heard that it’s tough to craft a proposal due to exacting IRA criteria, and I’d heard that the audiences can have high expectations (as they should). For those reasons and more, I was doubly thrilled not only for one of my proposals to be chosen but for the session to be, in my estimation, a whopping success. Incidentally, I guessed wrong on which proposal stood a better chance of getting a yes.

On 5/2/12 in Chicago, I presented “Teaching with Humor.” (Try you again this year, “But Kids Haven’t Heard of It”!).

The room was big—it held at least 200—and I’m happy to report that it was standing room only. People continued to trickle in for a while after I started; eventually some had no choice but to sit on the floor (violation!)—and I even had a few who had no choice but to occupy the seats behind me (at the pushed-back “panel table” that had been alongside my podium). They could still see the screen but when I began drawing examples, they had to relocate and find space in front of the table.

I’m told that it is especially difficult to get a good turnout on the last day, which this was, and I was even more grateful considering my slot was perilously close to lunch.

Here is selected feedback:

Thank you, IRA, for the opportunity, thank you, attendees, for attending, and thank you again, Scholastic, for sponsoring me.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Laurel Ridge Elementary, Fairfax, VA

On 5/11/12, I spoke at Laurel Ridge Elementary in Fairfax, VA. More than a week prior, the school displayed this in the library:

It was a great school, and patient. I had a raspy voice after several days in bed and the kids did not exploit my weakness.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

"10 Things Westfield Comics Likes About July 2012 Comics"

At the Westfield Comics blog, KC Carlson put Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman on his list.

He says that "every comics fan should enjoy this fond look at one of comic books' great 'lost' creators."

(He also says that the book is "primarily...intended for younger readers and children’s libraries"; all true except the "primarily." I call it an all-ages picture book.)

Thank you Westfield Comics and KC Carlson.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bill Finger: The DC Comics tributes

When Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator of Batman, died in 1974, it went unrecognized in the mainstream media. But the same year, DC Comics ran two memorials in lesser-seen publications, serving as the only obituaries Bill got. I’ve shown them before and here they are again:

Amazing World of DC Comics #1 (July-August 1974);
written by E. Nelson Bridwell

Famous 1st Edition (Batman #1) # F-5 (February-March 1975);
written by Carmine Infantino


Batman #259 (12/74)

Batman in the Seventies (1999)

And thanks to 20th Century Danny Boy, I learned of the following:

Its not from a DC publication but rather from the program of the 1974 New York Comicon.

 “obituary” for Bill Finger is out in July, and it’s a long-overdue tribute to a man whose cultural impact is, without hyperbole, astronomical.