Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Early Finger fighter: Mike W. Barr

More than a decade before I learned who Bill Finger was, which was about a decade after Finger died, I was a fan of someone who was already going to bat for Bill: writer and editor Mike W. Barr, who was also creator of Batman and the Outsiders, which just happened to be the only comic book in which I ever had a letter printed: 

Batman and the Outsiders #24 (1985); I was 13

(Oh, note who wrote the letter above mine. Wild coincidence. Lot to digest. Take a moment.)

 Mike W. Barr in 1988

In this case, unsung begets unsung: Mike is an unsung hero in the crusade to see Bill officially credited as co-creator, and I’ve known since I interviewed him in 2006.

When I asked him to articulate the most important point a book on Bill could emphasize, he said “Without him, there would have been no Batman. The character would not have lasted 67 years, if it had been published at all. And: Of all the important Golden Age creators, Finger probably received the least amount of financial compensation of any of them, and deserved far more than most of them.”

Recently, comics historian and all-around nice guy Sean Howe sent me this, from Dick Giordano: Changing Comics One Day At a Time:

I knew that Mike had stood by his principles on behalf of a guy who would never know, but didn’t know details; getting this glimpse of the fuller story was both inspiring and infuriating. It also made me realize how overdue I’ve been in acknowledging Mike here; however, another nod from me to him was set in motion months ago and will go public at San Diego Comic-Con, meaning it will be seen by a lot more people than this post.

In early 2014, Mike sent me this account of what happened:

My admiration for Bill Finger and my dismay at his lack of credit for his co-creation of Batman are both very nearly boundless. Unfortunately, not everyone in the comic book business feels that way.
In 1986, I was freelance-editing The Outsiders, a spin-off of the DC title Batman and the Outsiders. I wrote a letter to The Comics Journal stating that Finger deserved credit as the co-creator of Batman. The next time I was in the DC offices, Vice President Dick Giordano told me he considered that letter “your resignation as a DC editor” because I had “spoken out against the company,” conduct which (in Giordano’s eyes) was a firing offense for a DC staffer.
I replied to Giordano that I was not on staff. All payments I received for writing and editing were as a freelancer. I received no paid vacation time nor sick leave, and all medical coverage I received was paid for by my own pocket. I had no office on the DC premises; I did all my work at home.

None of this made any difference to Giordano, who said I had resigned. I said I would not resign and he would have to publicly fire me, which he did.

Giordano, despite a long history as a freelancer, never had any sympathy for Finger’s plight. In a last attempt to reason with him, I asked him if he had no empathy for Finger’s lack of credit on Batman. Giordano simply shrugged coldly and said “Finger should have stood up for himself.”

“Sure,” I said. “And we’re seeing how well that’s working out for me.”

Standing ovation for MWB.

Among the times Mike spread the word about Bill in print:

  • “The First Fifty Years of the Batman” (San Diego Comic-Con program, 1989)
  • “Bill Finger: The Man Way Behind the Batman” (Amazing Heroes #167, 1989)
  • “The Madames and the Girls: The DC Writers Purge of 1968” (Comic Book Artist Collection Volume 2, 2002)
  • “Pro2Pro” (Back Issue #73, 7/2014)

Thank you, Mike, for helping pave the way for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman. The road is not yet complete, but it’s no longer a skeleton crew trying to see it through.

Mike today


SF Varney said...

Nice article. Always enjoyed Barr's work. I have a deeper appreciation of him now.

Unknown said...

Wow, this is an intense article. Immense kudos to Mike W. Barr, I will not forget that name and story.