Tuesday, September 30, 2014

No "Bill Finger" in GOTHAM credits...but no "Bob Kane," either

This omission is, I believe, a first in the history of (official) Batman narrative:

As pressure to credit Bill mounts, I wonder if leaving Bob out is a ploy to defend not putting Bill in...

Friday, September 26, 2014

“Vocabulary Cartoon of the Day” curriculum guide

I have written two books called Vocabulary Cartoon of the Day, both for Scholastic; one for grades 2-3, the other for grades 4-6, the latter drawn by me, the former by major mensch Mike Moran

Ideas for using these books—and single-panel cartoons in general—in teaching (most adjustable for any grade from 2 up):

  • caption multiple choice—Copy various cartoons and cut off the captions. Show students each cartoon and a choice of captions (you can sneak in some dummy captions, too); ask students to determine which caption fits which cartoon. It will be interesting to see if any captions could fit with more than one cartoon. You can also make multiple sets, divide the class into teams, and make it a race.
  • vocabulary word multiple choice—Copy various cartoons and blank out the vocabulary words. Show students each cartoon and a choice of vocabulary words (you can sneak in some dummy words, too); ask students to determine which word fits which cartoon. You can also make multiple sets, divide the class into teams, and make it a race.
  • vocabulary word fill-in-the-blank—Copy various cartoons and blank out the vocabulary words. Show students each cartoon and ask them to guess (based on context clues) the approximate meaning of the missing word—or maybe even the word itself; in doing so, they will either get it right or learn a new word.
  • write a caption around different words—Assign each student a different vocabulary word around which to write/draw a cartoon. Alternate 1: ask them to make note of the next unfamiliar word they encounter while reading and build a cartoon around that. Alternate 2: ask them to close their eyes, open the dictionary, randomly point to a word, and build a cartoon around that.
  • write a caption around one vocabulary word—Give the whole class a word around which to write/draw a cartoon. Despite the same starting point, they will produce a notable diversity of ideas.
  • caption/art fill-in-the-blank—Copy various cartoons; with some, blank out the caption and with others, blank out the art. Ask students to fill in the blanks, whether it’s a funny caption to go with art or art to go with a funny caption.
  • cartoon detective—Show students various cartoons. Ask them to determine which kind of cartoon each one is—one in which all the humor is in the caption or one in which you need both text and art to make it funny?
  • find the funny—Show students various cartoons (single-panel or comic strip) and ask them to identify where exactly the caption and/or art gets funny.
  • next panel—Ask students to create the next panel for any of my cartoons; add another layer by asking for their panel to incorporate a vocabulary word from another cartoon in the book.
  • rewrite my captions—Ask students to come up with alternate, fitting captions for any of my cartoons. You could first show them the caption I used, or you could show them only the art—that way, maybe some will come up with a caption similar to mine!
  • cartoon switcheroo—Ask half the students in the class to write a funny caption, half to draw a funny picture. Without notice, collect and randomly redistribute the half-cartoons; ask each student to complete the one they get.
  • synonym switchout—Show students a multiple choice of synonyms for the vocabulary words in various cartoons and ask them to eliminate the one that is not a synonym.

Please share any other ideas you have and I may add them here!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The fortuitous timing of my pop culture interviews

I was born in the early 1970s, which means I grew up as a member of the last pre-Internet generation. The entertainment of my formative years was, of course, not obsessively documented for public consumption the way so much is today.

Since 2011, I have been running various series of interviews with pop culture figures of the 1970s and 1980s—people whose names you never knew but whose roles you vividly remember, from the songwriters and singers behind the Scooby-Doo theme to girls who appeared in iconic music videos during MTV’s heydecade.

When I started this blog in 2008, I didn’t plan to include this kind of feature. But I’m glad the idea came to me, and I think there is a certain combination of factors that have made it both possible and well-received:

  • I’m old enough to have gained the perspective to want to document this era.
  • I gained this perspective while many of the people I want to profile are still with us.
  • Many of the people I want to profile are still young enough (i.e. in their seventies or slightly younger) to have a social network presence and/or to regularly email, which sometimes (but not always) makes them easier to reach.
  • Many of the people I want to profile have not been in the public eye since the digital age began, so there is little or nothing already online about them (I like telling stories that no one else has).
  • Although plenty of people are (often exuberantly) interested in such content, there is no better outlet for it than the Internet. Mainstream magazines typically don’t run such interviews because they see the topics as too niche or too nostalgic (plus the magazine industry is shrinking by the day); some widely-read pop culture sites (Yahoo, USA Today’s Pop Candy, AV Club, Nerve) have been interested in covering the material but may not want to run it in its original form because the long-ish interviews may seem too detailed for the typical web reader (though my readers are proving that wrong!).
  • It turns out that I have a knack in tracking down people, even those with little trace online (whether due to age, disinterest, or privacy settings).

Ten years ago, it would have been much harder to find people online. Ten years from now, many more of the people I seek will no longer be around.

To me, the time is always right for nostalgia. But this time is especially right.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Not one but two (technically three) short films about Joe Shuster

On 7/30/14, which happened to be the 100th birthday of Superman co-creator/original artist Joe Shuster, someone alerted me to a short (Spanish, intertitled) film about Joe Shuster, and one with a curious approach. This Is Joe (Éste es Joe) focuses on a sad (yet disputed) incident decades after Superman debuted. Unfortunately, since then, for a reason I do not know, the video has been taken down. (10/1/14 addendum: But you can now see it here.)

 It was entered in this contest.

The closing shot is reminiscent of one of the Jerry Seinfeld/Superman commercials.
(Now we need a Jerry Seinfeld/Jerry Siegel commercial.)

Nice to see Joe in the spotlight for a change; it’s usually Siegel and Shuster or just Siegel (the play The History of Invulnerability), though Shuster was the subject of Craig Yoe’s well-researched book Secret Identity (even if he might not be keen about his fetish art coming to light).

This reminded me of another short film about Joe, part of the “Heritage Minutes” series produced in his home country of Canada, which I first mentioned here in 2008:

The Canadian film credits Joe for some of Jerry’s ideas and I had minor quibbles with some of the phrasing of the newer one—but what’s more important is that, more and more, people are recognizing the significance of these creators enough to bring them to life, if only for a minute. It makes me want a full-length Siegel and Shuster feature film even more (and believe me, I’ve been trying for years).

The Heritage Minutes film is apparently a big enough deal in Canada that there's actually a spoof of it:

Parody...that’s when you really know you’ve made it.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Back to school with Batman: “Are you being a Bill or a Bob?”

Educator (and foodie) Beth Shaum has shared very kind (and, if I may say, astute) comments about Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.

An excerpt:

Marc Nobleman has written an important story in Bill the Boy Wonder, not just for comics fans, but also as a lesson in giving credit where credit is due. I’m so grateful Katherine Sokolowski alerted me to this book in her presentation on building relationships at nErDcampMI, otherwise I’m sure I never would have read it. As someone who is not a fan of comics, why would I? But this book is so much more than a biography about a comic book creator. Bill the Boy Wonder is a perfect catalyst for talking with students about being gracious and fair, and a great question Katherine asks her students when conflict arises is, “Are you being a Bill or are you being a Bob?” It doesn’t get more simple and impactful for students than that.


Not only does this book speak to lessons in doing the right thing, but it is also peppered with writing inspiration as well. 


Bill the Boy Wonder is a book I will be sharing with my students at the start of the school year and one that I have a feeling we will reference often, just like Katherine does.

Thank you again, Beth and Katherine! And thank you yet again to all teachers who incorporate Bill the Boy Wonder into your classroom.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The greatest year in pop music: 1984

So says Rolling Stone, and I agree. 

In 1984, whether or not Big Brother was watching, I bet he was listening.

It’s (let’s go) crazy how many cool (it now) songs came out that year. It’s astounding that I knew almost every song on this Rolling Stone list of the 100 best singles of 1984, and even more astounding, that I like far more than half. I doubt I could say the same about most years since—and probably no year since the ‘80s closed up shop.

The boss of
84 was Prince. But there were tons of executive vice presidents.

Here are my favorites from the list—almost half, and hard to narrow down further:

99 Scandal feat. Patty Smyth, “The Warrior”
98 Dead or Alive, “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)”
95 Depeche Mode, “People Are People”
89 Steve Perry, “Oh Sherrie”
85 Bryan Adams, “Run to You”
78 The Cars, “You Might Think”
76 General Public, “Tenderness”
75 Billy Joel, “Uptown Girl”
72 Twisted Sister, “We’re Not Gonna Take it”
69 Ray Parker Jr., “Ghostbusters”
67 Madonna, “Like a Virgin”
66 Elton John, “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”
65 Laura Branigan, “Self Control”
64 Matthew Wilder, “Break My Stride”
63 ZZ Top, “Legs”
62 Animotion, “Obsession”
59 Pat Benatar, “Love Is a Battlefield”
57 Scorpions, “Rock You Like a Hurricane”
50 Wham!, “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”
49 Huey Lewis and the News, “If This Is It (this write-up links to me!)
48 The Go-Go’s, “Head Over Heels”
46 Eurythmics, “Here Comes the Rain Again”
45 Billy Ocean, “Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)”
40 Duran Duran, “The Reflex”
36 Cyndi Lauper, “She Bop”
34 Night Ranger, “Sister Christian”
27 New Edition, “Cool It Now”
22 Culture Club, “Karma Chameleon”
21 The Cars, “Drive”
18 a-ha, “Take on Me”
15 Nena, “99 Luftballons”
10 Sheila E., “The Glamorous Life”
8 Prince and the Revolution, “Purple Rain”
7 Don Henley, “The Boys of Summer”
4 Prince and the Revolution, “Let’s Go Crazy”
1 Prince and the Revolution, “When Doves Cry”

You know it’s a hella good year when “The Warrior” is #99…though in some cases I have a quibble with the ranking. “Solid” by Ashford & Simpson (#19) higher than “Wrapped Around Your Finger by the Police (#86)—and top 20, no less?

But still, I’d take “Solid” over “Timber” any decade.

From where I jam, most of these songs not only still hold up but also surpass much of what makes the Top 40 today. For starters, not a one is about going clubbing.

Obsession indeed.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Buster Jones, Black Vulcan voice actor, 1943-2014

Buster Jones, popular cartoon voice actor of the 1970s-80s, passed away on 9/16/14. I learned of this because his neighbor kindly notified his Facebook friends list one at a time. Buster was not married and had no children.

In 2011, I had the privilege of interviewing him for my Super Friends blog series. It was the first interview he gave about his animation voiceover work. His interview was one of the most candid of that (or any of my) series—in fact, one of his stories in particular is flat-out ribald. Buster had been out of the VO business for a while and was desperate for work. That interview got him invited to a cartoon convention in Texas, for which he got paid—and the royal treatment.

When talking conversationally, Buster had a stutter. However, when he recorded, it went away.

A radio and on-air TV personality as well, Buster interviewed everyone from Bill Withers to Rosey Grier to Gladys Knight:

Earlier this year, my good friend Mike Fox kindly went to Buster’s on my behalf (I don’t live in Los Angeles) to take a photo of Buster with the action figure I’d sent him. It was his Super Friends character, Black Vulcan.

You were electric, Buster. RIP.

Addendum: Because Buster was not married and had no kids, I feared no one would submit an obituary to the media. (Sensitive issue for me; Bill Finger never got one.)

But thanks to my friend Jonathan Taylor, I reached the right person at Variety and results happened: