Thursday, June 14, 2012

Only known surviving note that Bill Finger wrote

Much has been made (by me, anyway) about how few photos of himself Bill Finger (uncredited co-creator of Batman) left behind upon his death in 1974.

Early on, I realized something that was even scarcer: Bill’s handwriting. We have plenty of Bill’s writing, of course, but almost all of it is fictional (and typed).

But what would a personal note that he wrote reveal?

The only sample of his handwriting I’d seen was his signature on a 1963 note that Mike Catron had posted:

I’m no handwriting analyst so I can’t say what the curvature of his penmanship suggests about his character. Still, it was exciting to see it…until I learned of something better. Far better.

In 2006, early Batman ghost artist and Joker co-creator Jerry Robinson told me that he still has a guest book from an apartment he shared with other comic book artists in the 1940s. He said it’s filled with comments (and sketches!) by an A-list who’s who of the Golden Age (my phrasing, not his). And he said that includes Bill Finger.

On 8/12/06, when I went to Jerry’s to talk more about Bill, I asked to see the guest book. It is a peerless trove of off-the-grid comics history that would give whiplash to any fanboys with a sense of posterity. Some of the pages were loose and I urged Jerry (not that he needed a reminder) to continue to keep it safe so one day a copy of it might be shared with fandom.

Jerry generously allowed me to copy Bill’s page. I won’t yet say more about what Bill wrote because the page appears in its entirety on the last page of my book.

What I can say is how glad I am that I copied it when I did.

In 2010, I asked Jerry if I could re-copy the page because we needed a more high-res scan for reproduction (when I first copied it in 2006, I had not yet written the book and was so excited to get permission to copy the guest book page that I didn’t think of print quality).

I was aghast to learn that the guest book had since gone missing.

Later that year, the book resurfaced…but Bill’s page was still missing.

I suspected the book had been sent out to be scanned for Jerry’s autobiography (which came out in 2010) but couldn’t believe anyone involved could have been careless enough to let this happen. (And ultimately the Bill page did not appear in the autobiography.)

In any case, this unfortunate fluke made me the only known person in the world with a copy of this note. And as far as I know, I still am.

Incidentally, I have also dug up some personal (but typed) correspondence of Bill’s, featuring not only more signatures but some fantastic, previously unknown insight into Bill’s personality—including a Bob Kane moment that will make fans cheer. But this, too, will have to wait until my book comes out—one of those letters is quoted there, and the rest I will post here.

12/5/16 addendum: what else Bill Finger left behind.


Bob Buethe said...

That "contract" made me remember something. Have you ever read "Through the Wringer," a horror story parody that appeared in the Amazing World of DC Comics fanzine in 1975? Written by David V. Reed (aka Dave Vern) and drawn by Ramona Fradon, it was about a comic book writer named "Phil Binger" who habitually missed deadlines and nagged his editor for advances.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Bob, that shameful story has been in my blog queue for a long while. Maybe I should expedite it!

Anonymous said...

I always admired Julie Schwartz but he apparently pulled some real chickens--t moves like this little "contract".

And why any employer would have tolerated Kanigher as long as DC did is another huge mystery. Apparently Schwartz didn't like him either, but he never stood up to Kanigher or called him on his abusive and lecherous behavior.

Bob Buethe said...

I dunno... between the AWODCC story and the note above, I get the impression that it was a running gag around the office to tease Finger about his lateness. I guess we'll never know how he felt about it, but from the few encounters I've had with Julie Schwartz (and many more encounters with those who worked for him), I suspect it was done good-naturedly.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

It's safe to assume that Julie was good-natured about it, but unfortunately others, including Mort Weisinger, were not...

R.J. Jones said...

Do you still have a copy of the scan I sent you of the autographed
original art? I know we previously discussed for it not to be published because I was very disappointed that you were not going to use it in your book. I think that this piece should be shared with the masses as it is the only art that Finger signed which is the main reason why I was annoyed. As long as I am given proper credit you can post it on your blog. If you would like to discuss this further email