Saturday, April 20, 2013

Why “Bill the Boy Wonder” should have been nominated for an Eisner

A book I wrote, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman (illustrated by Ty Templeton), should have been nominated for a 2013 Eisner Award.

I realize that this may come across as brazen or bitter. But it’s not deriving from the natural bias an author has for his work. In fact, most of my rationale is objective. (Can something be self-serving and have integrity at the same time?)

The quick list of reasons why I believe the book deserved an Eisner nomination:

  • It is unprecedented in topic.
  • It is unprecedented in approach.
  • It is unprecedented in research.
  • It received mainstream critical acclaim, including an invitation to give a TED talk.
  • It has already had a positive real-world impact on the family.
  • It may have a significant real-world impact on fans. [9/18/15 addendum: It did.]
  • Kids, I’m happy to report, love it.

All of this is, of course, rewarding and humbling enough, but in terms of what this book has contributed to comics scholarship, not to mention social justice, the leading industry award should have acknowledged it. (Heck, part of the Eisner ceremony is the Bill Finger Awards!)

In particular, I believe that Bill the Boy Wonder deserved a nomination in at least one of these two categories:

  • Best Publication for Kids (ages 8-12)
  • Best Comics-Related Book

But perhaps it is because the book is eligible for both that it was nominated for neither. Unfortunately, some have a perception that nonfiction for young readers or for all ages is not as “legitimate” as exclusively adult nonfiction. However, I am hardly the only one who strongly disagrees with this view. And I feel it makes an even stronger statement to tell this story a format that is, to some, so unexpected.

An elaboration on my reasons (which does not sequentially expand on the quick list above because the points intermingle): 

For nearly 75 years, the sole creator myth that cartoonist Bob Kane started has reigned, and no previous book has gone far enough to debunk this. No previous book has put Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator and original writer of Batman (quite possibly the most popularand almost certainly the most lucrativesuperhero in world history) at the rightful center of the story. That alone makes this a book worthy of some distinction.

Yet there is more. 

Bill the Boy Wonder, the result of five years (and counting) of intensive sleuthing, is the first book on Bill. Strange that it took this long; his peers and fans alike considered him everything from the most gifted comics writer of his generation to an unequivocal genius.

I was one of the last writers (if not the last writer) in touch with several of Bill’s Golden and Silver Age colleagues (Arnold Drake, Alvin Schwartz, Carmine Infantino) before they died, and none of
Bill’s family and non-comics friends I contacted had ever been interviewed about him. I uncovered everything from his high school yearbook photo to the only known note in his handwriting to his WWII draft record to his death certificate (first two in the book, second two on this blog). None of it was a mere Google away.

There is still more.

Though Bill the Boy Wonder is the standard thinness of traditional picture books, it packs in a lot of previously unpublished bombshells:

  • Bill’s given first name and why he changed it
  • the aforementioned handwritten note (now the only surviving version because the owner—Jerry Robinson—lost the original after I copied it)
  • who was receiving Batman royalties—properly and illegally—for Bill’s work
  • quotations from Bill’s only known personal correspondence
  • the aforementioned yearbook photo (not as easy to find as you would think)
  • nearly a dozen “new” photos from personal collections
  • exactly when and how Bill died
  • a persistent rumor about Bill’s remains is wrong…and the truth is visually chilling
  • Bill had a second wife 
  • the only known mainstream press mention of Bill in his lifetime (The New Yorker, 1965)
  • the only known time between 1939 and 1963 that Bill’s name appeared in a Batman comic…sort of…
  • more than one example of entries from Bill’s famed but long-gone “gimmick books” (Alvin Schwartz mentioned one online but the others come from Bill’s longtime friend Charles Sinclair)
  • Bill’s endearing nickname for his son Fred
  • what Bill kept on his desk 
  • what Bill liked to eat late at night

And most startling of all:

  • the lone and previously unknown heir to Bill Finger: how I found her, who she is, and how my involvement helped her to receive long-overdue Batman royalties

For all of above, my book is the only print source.

Plus I continue to find
even more info and I regularly share it on this blog and at speaking engagements, free of charge. That’s the modern model of storytelling.

Lastly, Bill the Boy Wonder may change pop culture history. [9/18/15 addendum: It did.]

Despite what the comics community believed for decades, I discovered that Bill does have the aforementioned heir, a granddaughter born two years after he died. She is in the unique position to try to correct the ubiquitous, contractually mandated, yet egregiously inaccurate credit line “Batman created by Bob Kane.” In the history of comics, whole credit lines have been added to superheroes after years of anonymity, but no existing superhero credit line has changed.

I know that a real-world repercussion is not a criterion for an Eisner nomination, and even if that never happens, the book is still a landmark work in the field. 

Again a bold statement, but I can’t very well continue to call Bill’s failure to speak up on his own behalf a fatal flaw and then follow his lead. 

*     *     *

Disclaimer: This opinion is no way a judgment on any of the deserving talents who were nominated; I am not comparing my work to theirs but rather assessing it on its own. Good luck to all of the nominees.


hobbyfan said...

I've heard of getting screwed out a deserving honor, or even snubbed, but this takes the cake.

That's all I can say.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

That's really nice of you, hobbyfan, thanks.

Bill said...

It's a shame the book was ignored by the Eisner Awards. It is a ground breaking publication with reverberations that continue to ripple throughout the comic book world.