Friday, June 29, 2012

“Boys of Steel” vs. “Bill the Boy Wonder”

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman
Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman
form of “boy” in title?
familiar phrase title alludes to
“Man of Steel”
“Robin the Boy Wonder”
superhero silhouette looming over creators looking to right, yellow background, slanted text
superhero silhouette looming over creator looking to right, yellow background, slanted text (but this similarity to Boys of Steel was not calculated!)
received first proofs in November while mother-in-law visiting?
released in July…
story proper does not contain word “Superman”
story contains puns involving words “bat,” “Bill,” and “Finger” (nod to the fact that some of Finger’s stories also contained puns)
colors used to identify…
Jerry: brown, Joe: green
Bill: blue, Bob: yellow
number of rejections
common suggestion in rejections: skew it…
Junior Library Guild Selection?
one way to look at it
two friends unified by a great idea
two “friends” divided by a great idea
another way
two “little” guys against a big company
two guys against each other
Biblical parallel
David and Goliath
Cain (Kane) and Abel
worked on it summer of…
2005 (when a Batman movie came out)
2006 (when a Superman movie came out)
single line on back cover
“Before Metropolis, Smallville, and Krypton, Superman came from Cleveland.”
“Batman’s biggest secret is not Bruce Wayne.”

Fun closing fact: The husband of Bill Finger’s niece is Joe Shuster’s second cousin. This, however, will never be on Jeopardy!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bill Finger's sister is not in my book, part 2 of 2

Part 1.

The story so far: I was searching for Emily, the only sister/sibling of Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator of Batman; since she was born in 1918 and I knew only her maiden name, I was not confident I would find her. After spending hours futilely looking through vital records in the New York Public Library, I made two lists.

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?)
  • “Emily” was actually her middle name or nickname
  • she was not who I thought she was

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 “Emily Finger died in NYC between 1930-1982.

Eventually I realized another way I could use death to determine if Emily was alive. The New York City Death Index revealed that Bill and Emily’s parents had died within six weeks of each other in 1961, but did not name not their final resting place. I’d been assuming that the Jewish cemeteries of the Bronx would be too numerous to check. Then I learned that most Bronx Jews were buried in one of two cemeteries in New Jersey. I called the first and asked if these particular Fingers were there.

They were.

I asked who was maintaining the graves.

Some cemeteries won’t give out a name. But this one did.

It was Emily.

Luckily, her married name was unusual, and I quickly found her listing online. I called, possibly more nervous than the first time I called a girl my own age. She answered. And like that, I was connected to Bill’s closest living relative and the person who went back the furthest with him.

However, my excitement was short-lived. After all my efforts to track her down, she declined to answer most of my questions. She wouldn’t tell me why but did say that she and Bill had been estranged since even before Batman began. She barely even knew of his role in Batman, nor did she seem to care. She was tired and apologized that she had virtually nothing to contribute. Bill was estranged from his parents, too. They had pressured him to be a doctor, which didn't interest him. When he became a comics writer, they apparently would wait outside the office on payday and make Bill hand over his checks for the family. For these reasons, and possibly others, I imagine Bill developed resentment toward his mom and dad. I suspect this was the cause of the estrangement between them, and that Emily sided with their parents.

Close as I came, I ultimately had to accept that a significant part of Bill Finger, his sister Emily and her memories, will have to remain a mystery. I just couldn’t sway her.

But I did find her.

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.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bill Finger's sister is not in my book, part 1 of 2

Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator of Batman, had a sister born in 1918 (four years after him).

She and Bill had been estranged since the late 1930s for reasons no one alive but her seem to know—and she’s not talking. Bill never mentioned her publicly and apparently, never privately either; even his second wife did not know he had a sister. As of this writing, she is still alive.

At one point, the story of how I found her was going to be in Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman. However, with so many good stories to include, some good ones had to be cut, and hers was one.

So here it is—and expanded far beyond what I would’ve had space for in print:

No comics historians I talked to during my research knew that toward the end of Bill’s life, he had married a second time. As these things so often go, I stumbled upon ES (to protect privacy) without knowing that I should be looking for her. The moment was jubilant and became one of the first “behind-the-scenes” research stories I posted on this blog. But what made it pivotal was a casual comment ES made about Bill, something else no comics historians knew: his actual first name. (Hint: It was not Bill.)

A short biographical sketch of Bill ran in Green Lantern #1, in 1941. (Bill co-created him, too.) In the bio, Bill is referred to as an “only son.” This clouded my thinking for a while, but then it hit me like a gloved sock to the jaw: “only son” does not automatically mean “only child.”

Bill’s given name and the “only son” recalibration collided in my mind, catapulting me several months back to when I had struck out trying to find his family in census records.

Armed with my new knowledge, I revisited a particular census record and confirmed that I only thought I had struck out. That record indeed listed the right Fingers: Bill (but under his given name, which I’d learned only after first seeing the record), his parents (whose names I hadn’t known previously)…and his younger sister/lone sibling, Emily.

I figured Emily would be either deceased or close to impossible to find because she’d almost certainly have a married name. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t look for her. There would be things about Bill that only she would know.

Emily was born in 1918, most likely in New York. In 2006, attempting to find her middle name with the hope that it would narrow the search, I went through 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. Yet I found no Emily there.

I also spent hours combing through the New York Death Index (from 1930 to 1982) and obituaries of girls with her first name born in 1918, hoping to come across one whose maiden name was Finger, or one whose parents’ names matched the names of Bill’s parents, or even just one born in the Bronx. I found none of the above.

So I made two lists.

Part 2.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman comprises nineteen spreads (plus the first page).

The last three spreads take place after Bill Finger passes away.

In other words, six pages post-death. Plus a six-page author’s note.

This is one story where death is not the end...

Monday, June 25, 2012

9,000 retailers

Ingram sent this to 9,000 retailers:

Regardless of what it means for the book, that's 9,000 more people who may see the "Batman created by Bob Kane" credit in the film and mentally add "but mostly Bill Finger."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Jewish Book Council Network 2012

On 6/5/12, I auditioned for American Idol…of the Jewish book world.

It’s called the Jewish Book Council Network, or Jewish Book Network.

Every year this organization chooses a roster of authors whose latest book has a Jewish connection in some way and markets these authors as speakers to synagogues, JCCs, book fairs, and other Jewish institutions nationwide. The council’s goal is to support books with Jewish content and the authors who write them. They organize the engagements and cover travel expenses. The roster includes authors of books of all kinds, from cookbooks to political thrillers.

And each of those authors must indeed audition…in a way. Authors must be nominated by their publishers, which must send 100 copies of the book for JBC members to review. Some of those authors are then asked to come to New York to deliver a two-minute pitch for their book to a sanctuary full of program directors from across the country. The JBC emphasizes the two minutes. They do cut you off if you go over. And this, of course, pumps up the stress for some. Most.

What I and some of my fellow authors didn’t realize is that once you show up to give your pitch, the JBC has actually already accepted you. The audition is not to make the roster but rather to sell yourself to the audience—the people who book speakers.

There were 54 authors at the audition…and ours was the sixth (and last) in three days. So the roster comprises at least 300 authors. By chance I knew two others in my session—I graduated from college with one and had done an author panel with another.

Here’s the first minute and change of my pitch:

Ask anyone on the street to say the first thing that comes to mind about Batman and chances are she’ll name a concept that came from Bill Finger. Robin the Boy Wonder? Bill’s idea. Gotham City? Bill named it. Pointy ears? Bill even designed the costume.

Yet check any Batman story and the only person credited as his creator is cartoonist Bob Kane. That’s the way it’s been since Batman’s 1939 debut even though Bill wrote the first and many of the best Batman stories of the first 25 years. When Bill publicly revealed that it wasn’t just Bob at Batman’s beginning, Bob accused his onetime partner of lying.

It wasn’t until 1989 when Bob finally acknowledged Bill’s massive contribution to the Dark Knight. But Bill didn’t hear it. He’d died in 1974, alone and poor. No obit. No funeral. No grave.

No kidding.

Bill Finger forged one of our greatest champions for justice. It’s high time for justice for Bill himself. That’s why I wrote Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, the first book in any format on the real mind behind the Bat.

Unlikely as it might seem, it turned out that someone in the audience had a connection to Bill Finger. A woman came up to me at the cocktail dinner afterward to tell me that in middle school, she was best friends with the daughter of Bill’s second wife. In 2008, I blogged about both mother and daughter. In fact, it was thanks to daughter (let’s call her ES Jr.) that I found mother. Here’s the crazy story how.

This woman who was a friend of ES Jr. was astonished to learn that I had talked with ES Jr. But I think I was more astonished about the whole thing.

Institutions can request authors at any time but we were told most bookings are for the fall. Soon we find out which—if any—institutions wants more than two minutes from us.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

"Don't Ask! Just Buy It!"

Comics Alliance included Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman in a column called "Don’t Ask! Just Buy It!"

This edition: "From a Finger to a Glove."

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Dark Knight displays rise

At the Barnes & Noble in Ellicott City, MD, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman has a dual identity.

Identity #1: member of endcap with Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman.

Identity #2: member of The Dark Knight Rises table.

Special thanks to Julie and George (whom I met last weekend at Bookapalooza) for being so supportive of the book.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"The History of Invulnerability": a play about Jerry Siegel

If ten years ago you’d have told me that there would one day be a stage play about Jerry Siegel, I wouldn’t have believed you. But then again, if you’d told me there’d be a picture book biography of him (and Joe Shuster), I wouldn’t have believed that either.

On 6/13/12, my generous synagogue, Washington Hebrew Congregation, invited me to attend the play The History of Invulnerability in Washington DC. Apparently I'm the only Jerry Siegel historian in the congregation.

The story focused on Jerry’s “relationship” with his creation, Superman, as well as his struggles on four levels: dealing with the loss of his father who died during a robbery, dealing with selling all rights to Superman for $130, dealing with abandoning his firstborn child Michael after divorcing his first wife, and grappling (as everyone of the period did) with the unthinkable atrocities of the Holocaust.

Any one of those issues would be provocative and complex, but the playwright, David Bar Katz, wove all four into the story. At times this led to jarring transitions but at other times it generated great pathos. I was impressed with the level of real-life detail Katz included. He clearly did extensive research.

Almost immediately, I bought into the actor (David Deblinger) playing Jerry. I began researching Siegel and Shuster while Jerry was still alive, in 1994, but I was not able to reach him. Seeing this accomplished actor portray him made me mourn a friend I never had even more. He convinced me that I was seeing Jerry as he really was.

I was surprised and tickled that my friend and Jerry Siegel champion Phil Yeh was a character in the play. I told Phil and he was surprised, too.

The set was spare but effective. The comic book influence was evident in the paneled backdrop and the stage was plastered with images of comic book covers, though this was noticeable only when close up. An elevated portion of the stage was shaped like Superman’s S emblem, though this, too, could be missed.

A few minor goofs jumped out at me. In the name of accuracy:

  • stating that Jerry’s father died in 1925 (it was 1932)
  • stating that Superman: The Movie opened in 1977 (it was 1978)
  • stating that Marlon Brando would make $1 million for one day of shooting (it was $3.7 million for 12 days)

A couple were (thematically) more significant:

  • stating that Jerry’s father died by gunshot when four reports (police, coroner’s, death certificate, newspaper article) said it was heart failure
  • stating that Michael was not mentioned in Jerry’s obit in the New York Times (he was)

Any, of course, could have been creative license.

One moment contradicted what I knew. In the play, Jerry and Joe (at first) don’t produce stories with Superman stopping Hitler because the publisher asked them not to. But I remembered reading that Jerry and Joe did not want to do such a story during the war because they felt it would have been disrespectful to the real heroes who were fighting. I would think that the comic book publisher would want Superman clocking Hitler—that would boost sales!

After the play, I had the honor of taking part in an on-stage discussion with one of the well-spoken rabbis of Washington Hebrew, Joui Hessel. It was part interview, part impromptu review, part audience Q&A, and all fun. (Others I have long wanted to meet—author Tom De Haven, collectible comics guru Mark S. Zaid, the playwright himself—did or will do other post-play talks.)

A memorable, meaningful night all around. Thank you again to all who made it possible.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bookapalooza at Howard County (MD) Central Library

On 6/16/12, I was honored to be one of a distinguished group of authors to participate in the (first annual?) Bookapalooza in Maryland.

We gave away copies of Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman at BEA, but this was the first event at which copies were sold. (It was also the first speaking engagement during which I pointed out the bronze scarab paperweight in the book...and then held up the real thing, formerly Bill Finger’s, of which I am now the lucky owner.)

High school students created one of those stick-your-face-through carnival attractions for every author; mine coolly combined my two superhero books:

One highlight was meeting Tom Angleberger (The Strange Case of Origami Yoda) in person after exchanging several tweets.

He’s as nice as they come, and an energetic presenter, too. Bonus: I also got to meet his lovely wife, and she’s working on a project that I think will go far. I tried to encourage Tom to get a copy of his wildly popular books to Star Wars people such as Mark Hamill and Frank Oz. A work in progress...

First time as an author my name has been on a T-shirt:

As part of my presentation, I did something I’d not done before: created and sketched a superhero with audience participation. Kids gave me suggestions for every section, from head to boot. The final step was to solicit three possible names and ask the group to vote for the winner. It was so fun and seemed to go over so well that I plan on incorporating it into future appearances.

Introducing…the Bat Tiger!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

BookExpo America 2012

I’ve been attending BEA on and off since 1995, originally as a marketing assistant, then a marketing associate (huge difference, let me tell you), and now as an author/browser. This year was the first time I’ve done a signing there.

I was worried we wouldn’t get even a few people in a row, but we managed to unload every copy of Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman we had.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

First joint interview with Bill Finger's granddaughter, whose name is...

On 6/16/12, I did my first joint interview with Bill Finger's granddaughter, whose name I have been withholding publicly for five years. At least I can reveal: Athena, same as the goddess of wisdom. You will hear how apt the name is: 

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