Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Buster Jones is bustin' loose

Last year, I ran a series called “Super ‘70s and ‘80s”; it comprised original interviews with 100 “lost” stars of superhero/cartoon entertainment of the 1970s and 1980s.

One of my fervent hopes was that this series would lead to some of the 100 being invited to comic book conventions as paid guests to meet fans, in many cases for the first time. (Remember, they were “lost.”)

So far, it’s happened twice to my knowledge. The first time: I helped Michael Bell (Zan the Wonder Twin) get booked at an Ohio convention (though he was one of the few on my list who had already done cons and was still active in the business).

The second time was especially sweet because it was Buster Jones, who portrayed Black Vulcan on
Super Friends, as well as beloved characters on other shows. In Buster’s interview, he openly discussed how things had been tough. He has a pension but after Hanna and Barbera died (2001 and 2006, respectively), he had not gotten any voice work. From his mother he inherited the house in Tennessee that he was born in, and he is holding onto it in case he ever needs a place to live. (He’s currently in Los Angeles.)

After reading the interview, Peter Sinclair, one of the organizers of a Transformers convention called BotCon, contacted me for Buster’s contact information. I asked if Buster would be paid and Peter said yes. So with Buster’s permission, I put the two in touch.

Buster checked with an agent to see if a paid con appearance would be a union violation, and was told no. So in April, BotCon flew Black Vulcan to Dallas for three all-expenses-paid days of baptism by fandom.

It was the first pop culture convention Buster signed at.

But it was not the first he attended. That was one in San Diego mere weeks before Dallas; he went as an observer and did not tell anyone there who he was.

He almost didn’t make to Texas. For several days prior to BotCon, Dallas was vexed by tornadoes (six of them). Once there, Buster saw no signs of damage.

And he’d not been in Dallas since 1967 when he attended college (and experienced racism) there. He said there were streets he as a black man was not allowed to go down.

BotCon was crowded and Buster’s signings lasted three hours a day. He signed the con programs. I wish I could’ve seen it. Buster found the experience fun but exhausting. I asked if he remembered any of his castmates and he said he was excited in particular to see old friend Dan Gilvezan.

A highlight: the cast members who were there did a live reading of a Transformers cartoon script written specially for the convention.

I asked about Buster’s stammer. He said it would go away when he was doing one of two things: drinking (which he no longer does) and voice acting. As for the latter, he thinks it has to do with the fact that he’s reading rather than speaking extemporaneously.

“Fans dug meeting him,” Sinclair said. “He seemed to dig it all.” Buster confirmed that. Sinclair added “He dressed very nicely the whole weekend!”

I realize this is only one convention, one paycheck. But I remain hopeful that Buster, among others, will receive more convention invitations, and I will keep trying to bring that about any chance I get.

Your help would also be appreciated. Buster did so many shows and has more fans than he realized. Booking him with other performers from Super Friends or one of his other shows would make him even more of a draw.

Please share any suggestions in the comments. Do you know a con that pays for voice actors to appear?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Gay old time

On 6/29/12, I had the privilege of being a guest for the second time on The Frank DeCaro Show on Sirius satellite radio.

The first time, in 2008, was in-studio; this time was by phone. And unlike the first time, this time I knew going in that Frank’s show is aimed at the gay community.

The first time, Frank posed a riddle: which superhero is secretly gay, Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) or Oliver Queen (Green Arrow)? I played along and guessed Hal because he accessorizes with a shiny green ring. But Frank zinged me: obviously the correct answer is Oliver Queen.

I was ready for him this time!

Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman has three gay connections, all of which we touched on:

1. Bill’s son Fred was gay and for 10 years (1992 to 2002) Fred’s partner was getting Batman money instead of Fred’s only child, Athena (Bill’s granddaughter)

2. Bill actually weighed in on whether or not Batman and Robin were gay

3. Bill’s other big hero creation was the original Green Lantern, who was reinvented as gay in 2012

Thanks for having me again, Frank.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

IGN covers "Bill the Boy Wonder"

"It's time to sing the praises of Batman's secret co-creator, Bill Finger."

So says the subhead of a deftly crafted IGN article on Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.
Thank you, Joey Esposito! (In fact, that subhead could have been the subtitle for the book itself, though it is already quite long enough, thank you very much.)

Here are some of my favorite (unedited) comments and, where applicable, my responses:

I don't really think that this article fairly represents Bob Kane. Bob Kane has been quoted in several different interviews giving Bill Finger credit for his part in the creation of batman mythos. If anything dc should get the heat for not acknowledging Finger.

Agreed [re: confission44]. I've actually seen three of said interviews where Bob Kane specifically names "Bill Finger" for creating some of the specifics concerning our beloved caped crusader. That and Bob Kane NEVER came off as the type of person to want to steal someone's creative spotlight. DC is more to blame here than B.K. IMO.

my response to confission44:
Yes, but Kane did not publicly acknowledge Finger's role till Finger had been dead 15 years. To me, that is inexcusable.

my response to mstrjedi40:
Again, Kane did not credit Finger till long after Finger's death. What's more, in the 1960s, when Finger publicly revealed his role in Batman (without hostility to Kane, I might add), Kane accused Finger of LYING. Steal someone's creative spotlight? That was Kane's occupation.

Nobleman and Finger i appreciate the effort u put into creating my favorite hero and comic series Batman;)

I read & reviewed this book for the publisher before it was released to the pubic. I gave it 5/5 for it's courage & it's presentation.

I dislike the fact that marc nobleman makes himself sound like a self righteous person who just wants people to know the truth about Bill Finger's part in Batman's creation, but he is doing it to get paid!!

my response:
We all want to do work we love, and it's a bonus if we can get paid for it. By the way, I spent four years on this project before a publisher made me an offer. There was never any guarantee I would make a dime on this; meanwhile I offer plenty of my research on my blog for free.

It's a little hard to take this article too seriously, when you consider that almost everything about Batman was directed lifted from Zoro.

my response:
Finger openly cited his influences, and my book acknowledges that as well. And there are, of course, significant differences between Zorro and Batman. I'd say one of the biggest is that Batman has a psychological reason to do what he does.

Friday, July 27, 2012

AV Club on "Bill the Boy Wonder": "good conversation-starter"

The AV Club, the entertainment review arm of the popular humor brand The Onion, took a look at Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman. An excerpt:

Bill the Boy Wonder explains the early history of superhero comics in plain, clear language, and without sugarcoating what the business could be like. If anything, Bill the Boy Wonder is even more blunt about how a man responsible for characters and concepts enjoyed for decades by millions of people around the world ended up getting far less than his fair share of compensation. But the book’s not sad or angry; nor does it turn Finger into some iconic martyr for creators’ rights. Instead, Nobleman and Templeton depict Finger at work and Finger at home, showing him as a man of varied interests, who tried his best to funnel his life into his comics. Bill the Boy Wonder would make a good conversation-starter—about the realities of art and commerce—for comics-loving parents and their children.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Senator Patrick Leahy and Bill Finger

Senator Patrick Leahy (Vermont) is a high-watt Batman fan.

I sent him a copy of Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.

He sent back this:

Hello, new pen pal.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"School Library Journal" on "Bill the Boy Wonder": "unique...will be a hit"

School Library Journal 8/12

“Unique…eye-catching...engagingly told…complex and thorough…will be a hit.”

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bill Finger’s medical examiner report and death certificate

As I did with Michael Siegel, father of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, I sought out the death documents of Bill Finger. Neither set was a breeze to come by but both turned out to provide invaluable insight in creating Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.

Bill’s medical examiner report is four pages (the first of which is displayed in two images because it is too big for a single scan). I was told that a medical examiner made an evaluation only when the cause of death was not immediately known.

A few sad observations:

According to the “Report of Death” form, it was longtime friend Charles Sinclair who found Bill face up on a couch in Bill’s apartment, #9B, at 3 p.m. (That was how Charles relayed the story to me before I had copies of these forms. His memory should somehow be harnessed by the CIA.) This is how the apartment building looks today:

Apparently, word of Bill’s death did not reach the medical examiner until 8 p.m., and his half-hour examination began at 9:15 p.m.

It’s noted that Bill suffered MIs (heart attacks) in 1963, 1970, and 1973. This is also noted: “No weapons, notes. No evidence of trauma.”

The “Notice of Death” form indicates that Bill was to be cremated; the final, touching resting place of Bill’s ashes is shown in Bill the Boy Wonder. The words at the bottom of this form are haunting in their curtness: “Natural death. No history. No family.”

The “Identification of Body” form indicates that Bill’s body was claimed by his only child, son Fred, who was 25 and living in California at the time. Especially sad: Fred reported that he had last been in touch with his father three years prior.

According to the same form, Bill was “not employed.” The accurate term would have been “self-employed.”

Despite a recurring debate, there is no mention of alcohol on any of the forms.

On a broader note, the access hierarchy to vital records is bewildering to me. The following pertains to New York as of 2007:

birth certificate
only family members, I believe
birth/death indexes
anyone, but you cannot make copies from the books
social security application
yes; slightly more if you don’t know the person’s social
anyone (if person is deceased, obviously)
marriage license
death certificate
only family members (luckily I knew some of Bill’s)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"Washington Post" on "Bill the Boy Wonder": "excellent"

"Excellent...invitingly illustrated."

The Post also asked me for comment about the tragic Batman-related incident that happened mere hours after the
above article posted.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Batman in the wake of tragedy

Though the movie the Aurora, Colorado, shooter chose for his rampage was clearly deliberate, this unthinkable incident is not about Batman, or even movies in general.

The priorities are honoring the dead and figuring out what we can do to better protect the living. Like the rest of the conscious world, I express the deepest of sympathy to those suffering.

Still, as the author of a new book about Batman, I can’t begin to post in the wake of Aurora without acknowledging the tragedy. I don’t claim to have anything profound to add to the chorus of eloquently worded offers of condolences, shoulders, blood, and other forms of support. I simply want to say I am so, so, so sorry for your loss.

The day we woke up to the heartbreaking (and enraging) news, I had three items on my agenda, and all were Batman-related: morning phone interview about Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman with the New Haven Register, the newspaper of my hometown metropolitan area; afternoon book signing/meet and greet at a Virginia Barnes & Noble; evening screening of The Dark Knight Rises. (I didn’t have advanced tickets; arriving only 30 minutes before start time, I suspected it would be sold out. It was not.)

At first I wondered if I should go through with any of my 7/20/12 agenda, especially the second two items; if my book was not about Batman, I don’t think this would have been as strong an internal debate.

But I am not the type for symbolic grandstanding. If you are not directly affected by such an incident, I do not feel going on with life is disrespectful, nor do I feel a one- or two-day moratorium on Batman “work” will send a message of consequence to anyone, including myself. I believe in doing what I can, privately, to help the victims and meanwhile, carrying on.

To be clear, I am also not one who says “I will go ahead with my Batman commitments because if I don’t, the terrorists win.” That brand of statement is too glib, too self-important, for me. I believe in going ahead with my commitments because they are just that, commitments. I can take other specific action to do my small part to try to prevent terrorism.

Here are glimpses of my low-key afternoon:

The table as it was set up.

The table as I rearranged it. I don’t like giving out candy and I don’t like Butterfingers
in particular, but I’m sure you get why I made exceptions. Oddly, one man took a candy bar
(but not a book) and dropped some coins into the candy fishbowl as a (his word) “donation.”

Thank you to Scott Grove, Jill Etesse, Andrea Kramer, Steven Solomon, and Matt Blum—and, of course, all those I didn’t already know—for stopping by.

Just as Batman rises in the film, so shall the people senselessly scarred in the Aurora tragedy. Like Batman, their struggle will not be easy, and certainly not quick, but I am confident they have the strength. For what it is worth, a nation of Batmanians are behind them.

I have to wrap up. I have a Batman book signing at Hooray for Books in a little bit.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Creator Rises

Bill Finger main-created Batman and nicknamed him the Dark Knight. Today (perhaps you heard) The Dark Knight Rises opens, but Bill’s name will not be in the credits.

On 12/10/07, a bit more than six months before The Dark Knight opened, I e-mailed DC Comics; after introducing myself as the author of books including Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman (which also wasn’t out yet), I asked the following:

Could Bill’s name be included in the credits for The Dark Knight? Please don’t automatically delete! I know contractually DC can’t call him “co-creator” so I rather mean something along the lines of “Batman was first called ‘the Dark Knight’ in Batman #1, in 1940, in a story written by Bill Finger.” DC publications already regularly credit Bill for that story, so I see this as completely compatible, legally safe, and of course morally fair. After all, the movie’s title doesn’t even include the word “Batman”—it is wholly a phrase coined by Bill Finger. I look forward to your response.

DC, to their credit, wrote me back:

Thanks for your passion for our creators and characters, but there are no plans to credit Bill on The Dark Knight.


To be clear, I am asking if Bill can be credited only for the coining of a phrase, in unambiguous language. … Isn’t that just as permissible (it seems even more so) as your regular practice of crediting him in reprints for entire stories he wrote?


With all due respect, I’m not having this discussion.

However, I was not the first to attempt this. That distinction goes to Lyn Simmons, Bill’s second wife; they married in the late 1960s.

Her determination to get credit for Bill were bold, selfless—and, it seems, nearly successful. I will let her words—and press about her efforts—speak for themselves (some are undated so I have put them in chronological order as best I can):

This is the jaw-dropper:
“Warner Bros….appear willing to give Bill credit on the film.”
How I wish I knew more about the conversations that led to this.

Her proposed language: “In memoriam to William Finger, who helped create Batman.”

Alas, as you likely know if you’ve read this far, Bill was not credited in that (or any other Batman) film. What torpedoed this possibility?

Lyn said that Warner backed out when they learned that she was not his widow but rather his ex-wife.

In any case, this is an astonishing glimpse at what could have been.

Had it been, perhaps there would be no need for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman today…

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Super ‘70s and ‘80s sound-offs

A year ago today, I launched my massive series featuring interviews with an even 100 “lost” superhero stars.

Mondo comics site IGN covered it. The article (by good man Joey Esposito) is called “Unsung Superheroes: The Interviews.”

I enjoyed two reader comments in particular:
It is high time to recognize Bill Finger as CO-CREATOR of BATMAN! Why it takes a highly dedicated historian/intellectual comic geek to make us realize the TRUTH about Batman's creation?

Wow someone has alot of free time.

Thank you, sharkpaul!

And blakmarvel79, yes, we all start off with free time. But many of us choose to devote some of it to hard work for others' enjoyment.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Golden Age at San Diego Comic-Con

San Diego Comic-Con panels about Golden Age creators earned a nod on Slate, in an article by Seth Stevenson. He mentioned both I was part of:

One of the more touching themes I've noticed at Comic-Con has been the effort to grant forgotten comic book creators their due. Panel after panel has paid solemn tribute to comics legends of yore. ... There was a panel devoted to Bill Finger, the co-creator of Batman, who was denied official credit by his schmucky partner Bob Kane. Complaining that they don't expect to see Finger's name listed in the credits for the new Batman movie, the panelists urged us to give a symbolic "finger" when Kane's name appears [emphasis mine]. Another panel recounted the sad tale of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who invented Superman but then sold the rights for $130—70 years later, this is still the subject of an ongoing lawsuit.

I was that urging panelist but the finger I suggested giving was quite literal; in fact, I provided it to attendees:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

San Diego Comic-Con 2012 – Bill Finger rises!

AKA the Foam Hand Rises! (You will see what I mean below.)

Bill Finger took me to the biggest pop culture convention in America, if not the world: Comic-Con International, commonly known as San Diego Comic-Con, commonly hashtagged as #SDCC. Thanks, Bill—it was well worth it and I’ll go on a second date anytime.

Before I went this figure got me suitably excited:

And though I worried when no line had formed outside the room before my first of two speaking appearances (“Batmans Biggest Secret: The Bill Finger Story,” 7/12/12), a stampede of people soon showed up. I took these photos during my presentation (while they watched the trailer for my book Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman):

On top of a robust turnout, this presentation was so rewarding for multiple reasons, and here are three:

reason #1: It was the first full presentation I’ve given on Bill the Boy Wonder. The book has snuck into other presentations for the past year or so but finally gets a presentation of its own.

reason #2: I gave out a quirky promotional item I produced exclusively for SDCC:

This is how I first envisioned it, but full color turned out not to be possible (and the book cover would be too small anyway):

At the end of the presentation, I announced that I had 25 foam hands to give out then and 25 more the following day, with a condition: to accept a Finger hand, a person had to guarantee me that s/he would wear it at SDCC…and hopefully beyond. In fact, I asked those who see The Dark Knight Rises to “give the Finger” when they see “Batman created by Bob Kane” appear on the screen. I was swarmed with interested volunteers and wish I had enough for all. (And I hope I see a person flip the foam finger during the movie credits...)

reason #3: I spotted a man who was wearing the promotional item I handed out at last year’s SDCC, a T-shirt of which I distributed only about ten (and which was also yellow):

On 7/13/12, I sat on the panel “Siegel and Shuster and Finger,” run by the Moderator King, Mark Evanier; my companion was the gifted Larry Tye, author of the well-written cultural biography Superman, which has been reviewed everywhere except your high school newspaper.

photo by the utterly nice Jenni Holm
 photo by the equally nice Joe Crawford

As I had done during my presentation the night before, I took a photo of both sides of the packed room...
...and first one then two people flashed the foam Finger hand they got the night before!

The emotional highlight of the panel for me: after I announced that Bill Finger’s lone heir, the granddaughter born two years after Bill died in 1974, began receiving some Batman royalties thanks to my project (and after the money had wrongly been going to other people for 15 years), the audience applauded.

After the panel, Larry and I signed books side-by-side; first Superman and Batman teamed up, now authors of books about them:

That afternoon, my lovely associates (sisters Christy and Molly) and I distributed the remaining Finger hands to fans gathered around the five Batmobiles parked outside. But not before posing ourselves: 


courtesy of Donnie Seto

I took this photo to capture two Finger hands “in the wild” and was later pleasantly surprised to notice a third one in the background:

Giveaways may just work after all!

That evening, I attended the Eisner Awards (the Oscars of comics) with particular interest in seeing the Bill Finger Awards, which are given out during the larger ceremony:

Friends and associates I got to chat with during SDCC (* and in some cases, whose spouses I met):

Chris Duffy *
Jenni Holm *
Matt Holm *
Michael Uslan *
Mark Evanier
Charlie Kochman *
Dave Roman
Raina Telgemeier
Josh Elder
Jamie Coville
Michael Dahl
Dan Santat
Barry Lyga
Bob Greenberger
David Siegel
Marc Zicree
Karen Manne (we go back to grade school!)

Had been in touch online but met in person for the first time:

Gerard Jones
Arie Kaplan
Larry Tye
Ray Feighery
Donnie Lemke

Plus it was an honor to meet Scott McCloud after years of referencing Understanding Comics in my presentations on the art and humor of cartooning.

Other glimpses:

Meeting Gerry Jones (Men of Tomorrow; center) and Arie Kaplan (From Krakow to Krypton)...

The signs announcing my appearances...

The black-and-white version of the Bill the Boy Wonder cover, which was also not imprinted on the palm of the foam hand because it, too, would have come out too fuzzy...