Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thirteen schools in Nebraska

As has happened multiple times before, I spent the second two weeks of October speaking in schools far from home. This time, in the unspoiled Nebraska towns of Elkhorn and Gretna. Hearty, lovely folks.

Glimpses along the way:

 Overseen at one school. Self-explanatory.

 This and the next two images are from 
West Dodge Station Elementary.

 Picturesque Zorinsky Lake, 
where I ran every other evening.
Most nerve-racking part:
finding a place to hide the keys to my rental car. 
I think I can trust you:

At Westridge Elementary, they ordered Superman and Batman
cookies for a staff lunch...

...but the bakery heard a name other than “Superman”:

(the bakery owned the mix-up, giving the school the 
Spider-Man cookies anyway and making the Superman ones)

Students at Hillrise Elementary decorated pumpkins based
on books they like, and three chose Boys of Steel:

On 10/23/14, thanks to Stephany Albritton, the kind media specialist who initiated this trip, I had the privilege of speaking to a fun class of teachers-in-training at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. A tangent or two floated to the surface, including an anecdote I shared about an author who signed 150 copies of his books...only he was not the real author.

Several days later, as thanks to me for visiting her class, Stephany gave me a copy of Boys of Steel...signed by people who were not the authors: the students. But this time, it was welcomed! They even posed as a bunch of Supermen, Superwomen, Batmen, and Batwomen:

Skyline Elementary a) held a contest for students to design posters announcing my visit and b) created a cool display true to its name:

Manchester Elementary was one of the schools that treated me to a homemade lunch, including this cake which cheekily welcomed not me exactly, but my blog:

Lastly, at Spring Ridge Elementary, I ran a game I regularly play during author visits in which I call up five pairs (each time one boy, one girl), one pair at a time, to answer certain questions. For the first time ever, I unknowingly called up two consecutive pairs who had the same two names...Ben and Ava. It may not seem noteworthy at first, but considering I have done this game for almost ten years, and considering "Ava" is not so common a name in my world, it sure shocked me!

Thank you, Nebraska! See you again soon, I hope.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Chupacabra restaurant in Washington DC

Chance brought me to the almost inevitable place to celebrate when my book The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra comes out (hopefully in 2016).

Spotted from a bus:

The home page of what turns out to be a restaurant:

Best part? That phone number.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Robert Porfirio (interviewed Bill Finger in 1972), 1938-2014

On 10/19/14, Robert Porfirio passed away. I never met Bob and know little about him. What I do know is that he was wonderfully kind...and one of the most important people in the story of documenting Batman co-creator Bill Finger.

Bill’s legacy is lousy with people who—like Bill himself—have not gotten sufficient credit for their contributions:

  • Jerry Bails—the fan who “discovered” Bill, was the first to interview him (in 1965), and singlehandedly spread word to other Batman fans
  • Tom Fagan—another pro fan who interviewed Bill, also in 1965
  • Jim Steranko—the only author to publish an interview with Bill in Bill’s lifetime, in 1970
  • Thomas Andrae—the primary writer of Bob Kane’s autobiography (1989); it was Tom who urged Bob to give Bill as much credit as he could in the book

And Bob Porfirio.

On 5/20/07, which was at the tail end of my research for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, a generous novelist and popular culture historian named Will Murray contacted me (what follows is a consolidation of multiple emails):

I have discovered there exists an unpublished Bill Finger interview. Probably substantial. I and another researcher and looking at trying to get it into print. The interviewee is retired, but interested. The interview is at a university and will have to be released.

It shapes up like this. Robert Porfirio interviewed Finger late ‘60s or early ‘70s. [It turned out to be 1972.] And others. Never did anything with the interviews. He had worked at DC as office help, and through DC got this [entrĂ©e] to numerous comics people. Then went into teaching. When he [retired] from teaching, he left his papers at the university where he taught. They were forgotten.

But one of his other interviews fell into my hands in a strange way. I contacted [Robert]. Learned of these [other interviews].

On 6/30/07, thanks to Will, I first spoke with Bob. Nice as all get-out. He’d interviewed Bill at Bill’s place in New York. He remembered that Bill was a gentle guy who made Bob shut off the recorder for certain anecdotes, i.e. how editor Mort Weisinger would haunt Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, calling him at odd hours to rip apart his scripts.

When Bob left his job at California State University, Fullerton in 1980, he left the interview there and kept no copy for himself. Upon hearing from Will in 2007, Bob asked Fullerton if they could track down the interview and they tried—but they found neither tape nor transcript.

In early 2008, when considering going to my first San Diego Comic-Con, I asked Bob (who lived in San Diego at the time) for advice on scoring a hotel room in the ultra-competitive crucible of Comic-Con booking. Though he barely knew me, he graciously offered me to stay with him. (I didn’t end up going.)

On 11/25/08, while packing for a transcontinental move, Bob emailed “I found some of the tapes I made of comic industry people back in the seventies.”


“I do see one tape marked ‘Finger.’


On 12/2/08, Bob’s son-in-law emailed me a digital copy of the 28-minute interview—the first time I’d heard Bill’s voice. It is only one of two known audio recordings of Bill speaking, the other being his 1965 panel at a New York comic convention. Bob’s full interview was subsequently transcribed in Tom Andrae’s book Creators of the Superheroes. And a clip of it is in the book trailer I made for Bill the Boy Wonder.

Bob, thank you for interviewing Bill Finger and for taking the time, 25 years later, to look for that interview for me. I know you had other accomplishments worth noting, but this is the way I knew you. I regret that we never met in person. You were a good man.

Special thanks to (and photo courtesy of)
Lareesa Mumford-Pope.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Getting to know the “Getting to Know Jon Scieszka” DVD

Like many authors of books for young people, I’ve long admired Jon Scieszka for his humor, his generosity, and his grooming. Once I had the pleasure of being on a panel with Jon, though this photo offers no proof.

I recently learned that a book I wrote makes a nonspeaking cameo in a Weston Woods film about Jon’s life, Getting to Know Jon Scieszka.


(The director’s cut was released under a different name—The Wolf of Wall Street.) 

Thank you, Jon, for including of Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, and thank you for all you do to motivate boys to embrace the adventure of reading. You are the Wolf of Book Street.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Krypton of Omaha

Thank you again to Dean Phillips, owner of the spacious and special comic book shop Krypton Comics in Omaha, for inviting me to do a signing. I appreciated your initiative and generosity. You are a man with his finger on the pulse of both comics conservation and good hostmanship.

Plus you made one of the coolest promo posters I have had the privilege of appearing on (perhaps tied with this one):

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My sequels

Felix Explores Our World (1999) sequelizes (and incorporates) The Felix Activity Book (1996). 

Vocabulary Cartoon of the Day Grades 2-3 (2010) sequelizes (prequelizes?) Vocabulary Cartoon of the Day Grades 4-6 (2005).

Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman (2012) sorta sequelizes Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman (2008). Well, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster do cameo in it...

The “Girl in the Video” interview series had a round 2 (2014)...following, of course, a round 1 (2013).

logo adapted by Leigh Cullen @DesignLeigh

The kidlit authors read bad reviews series launched with three videos and no certainty of continuation, but a month later, three more appeared.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The greatest Batman story ever told

Mark Waid wrote the biographies of the men who wrote and drew the stories featured in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told (1988).

Here is the beginning of the bio for Bill Finger (which continued on the next page):

Two aspects jump out:

  • Bill has since been credited with writing four of the stories in the book (“Dr. Hugo Strange Strange and the Mutant Monsters,” “The Origin of the Batman!,” “The First Batman,” “Robin Dies at Dawn”), but only one (“Mutant Monsters”) is listed after his name. The book came out before the grassroots, meticulous detective work of sites including the Grand Comics Database; at that time, comics historians simply had not yet re-established who worked on some Golden Age stories. (Proof that it was not a deliberate slight: no one else in the biography section of the book is credited as writer for the other three stories.)
  • The word “created.” Mark doesnt break down which of those four A-list villains Bill created vs. co-created, but it was still a strong statement. (By the way, Bill created the first three.)

Thank you, Mark, for taking a stand at a time when that was risky; accurate as phrasing is, I am surprised it made it into print.

The greatest Batman story ever told? If you ask me, it is not in the book. In fact, it is not yet finished. It is the story of the legacy of Bill Finger, Batman’s primary creative force, being officially instated after 75 years.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

“Kidlit mashups” in 1999 “Nickelodeon” Magazine

Upon seeing my kidlit mashups, Chris Duffy, my friend and a former editor of Nickelodeon Magazine, recalled a similar piece that ran in Nick Mag 15 years ago (two years before I began writing for the magazine).

He was kind enough to track it down, scan it up, and zip it over.

It was not based on wordplay like mine, but it did combine picture books with novels like mine. Mine features five of the same books but none of the same mashups.

“A Novel Mess,” puzzle written by Robert Leighton, art by R. Sikoryak
Nickelodeon Magazine (9/99), pages 30-31