Friday, January 29, 2016

Missing my chance with Paul Norris, co-creator of Aquaman

In 2006, I wrote to Paul Norris, the artist who (with Mort Weisinger) co-created one of my favorite superheroes, Aquaman. 

The Brave and the Bold #32, 
art by Jesús Saíz

How favorite? This favorite. (Warning: Underoos.)

Paul was 92.

I asked for an interview.

He kindly granted it:

But then I squandered it.

I didn’t take him up on it. Part of the reason was I didn’t yet have this blog, so didn’t have an easy outlet to share the interview. Part of it was just general lapse of judgment.

In 2007, Paul passed away.

A belated thank you, Paul. I know others interviewed you but I regret missing my chance. If there’s an Atlantis, I’m sure you’re there now, relaxing as you watch a confetti of fish waggle by.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

“By special arrangement with the Jerry Siegel family” explained

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s big idea, Superman, debuted with their names on it in 1938. After they sued their publisher and lost in 1947, their names were removed and not restored until 1976 (Superman #302).

But in 2013, the credit line changed again. It was no longer just “Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.” Well, it was and it wasn’t. Underneath the longstanding credit now appears the elaboration “By special arrangement with the Jerry Siegel family.”

I’m way late in addressing this, and technically I’m not capable of addressing it at all, but my friend and legal maestro Jeff Trexler is. I asked him to explain why this additional, seemingly redundant line has been added. His response:

Settlements are funny things. We tend to speak of them in legal terms—each side has a claim and reaches an agreement that in some way accommodates both without acknowledging either as the winner. As with lawsuits themselves, however, there is often much more at stake than the letter of the law. For the Siegels, the settlement embodied decades of perceived injustice, abuse, and misperception—they saw it as their chance to set history aright, and not just the history between the creators and DC.

From Joanne’s perspective, it appears that she didn’t see Joe Shuster as an equal—I bet if you asked her in private, she would have said that Joe ultimately didn’t matter at all. You may recall that she had Joe pay a percentage of his DC pension to her as a commission for negotiating raises (see Larry Tye’s book, pages 269-70)—her sense was that Joe wouldn’t have received anything if Jerry hadn’t pursued it.

Her perception of Joe as undeserving had deep roots. Remember that Joe drew Superboy when Jerry was in the military, which means that technically, since the victory leading to the settlement in the 1940s involved Superboy, not Superman, she could have seen Joe’s share of that settlement too as wholly underserved. Go back even further and there’s Joe’s decision to quit the character for a while in the early ‘30s, which left certain core elements to be first drawn by Russell Keaton.

And then there’s the storied Superman creation myth, which has Siegel alone in his room inspired to create the character fully formed. Sure, he gets Shuster to draw it, but in Siegel is the hero of the tale—if it hadn’t been Shuster, it would have been someone else. It’s akin to what Kirkman argued in regard to Tony Moore’s art for the early issues of The Walking Dead, as well as Tony Isabella’s insistence that Trevor von Eeden was not Black Lightning’s co-creator.

All of which brings us to the settlement. While the Siegels kept the hard-fought Siegel and Shuster credit, they also requested and received a credit acknowledging the family’s special place in the character’s existence—Superman et al. couldn’t appear anywhere without their permission. Legally this wasn’t true—DC held the Shuster share and could do what it wanted with the character, even if they’d let the Siegels claim their 50%—but it made the Siegels feel vindicated and so in it went.

Here’s a telling bit of correspondence in which [lawyer Marc] Toberoff ends up rejecting over twenty million bucks; if I recall correctly, there’s more recent info in the filings taking the rejected amount well over thirty mil. Without Toberoff’s jumping in to try to get her share for his production company, Joanne might have passed away happy and rich.

Monday, January 25, 2016

American Heritage School, Florida

On 1/21/16, I spoke four times at the two campuses (Plantation and Delray Beach) of the American Heritage School in Florida.

Meanwhile, up north, the historic blizzard was bearing down. While I was bummed to miss this monster snowstorm, I had a monster of a time in the Sunshine State.

One of the libraries boasts (fake but fantastic) trees and an enormous underwater grotto which makes for one of the most memorable book talk spaces in the country.

Another special treat: my friend Athena Finger, lone grandchild of Bill Finger, was able to attend one of the talks. It’s been more than two years since she has last seen me present, and, of course, a lot has changed since then.

Thank you to Debbie Washburn, Patricia Deben, Zana White, and everyone else involved in bringing me to AHS. I hope to visit your campus of natural wonders again.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Everest of school visits

On the first day of 2016, I flew to India for third time within a year for my third stint at the American School of Bombay. I taught creative writing three times a day for five days, and capped it with a most unusual and unexpected speaking gig.

I’d stayed the week at a Sofitel hotel and on my first day, a restaurant manager struck up a conversation. When I said I am a writer, he asked if I’d present to the staff about my work. (On his list of suggested topics I could cover: calligraphy. I quickly disabused him of the notion that I had any knowledge of that.)
I said I’d be happy to but questioned if anyone would be interested. He assured me that people would and he was right:

I learned this was part of the hotels monthly “voices” program which revolves around a different speaker each time—sometimes guests, sometimes locals.

On 1/9/16, I was off to a first for me: Nepal, to speak at two international schools in Kathmandu—Lincoln School and the British School.

The country is still reeling from the earthquake (and aftershocks) of 2015. Evidence of it is visible fairly often, but it’s far from a city of rubble. In some cases what I took for quake damage was actually new construction in progress. (Neither school had lost any staff or students in the quake, though both, I believe, lost a significant number afterward, due to urgent relocation.)

At one point, a Nepali I was with indicated a man on the street near us and said “He’s a rich man. He has an ax.”

Glimpses of my Nepal, starting with my first step there:

The airport:

Earthquake damage:

Due to fallout from the quake, some people ride the bus like this:

Small shops are rampant, this one on the scenic drive up a mountain to a spot called Nagarkot, where Everest could be visible if weather cooperates:

The Mount Everest Youth Club:

A five-star resort with a great view...but, since the quake, a drop in guests:

Two of my kind hosts, Lincoln School elementary school principal Ken Fernandez and his wife Cri:

If not for clouds, you would see Mount Everest behind me:

Great view of the Himalayas on this postcard of my hotel, Hotel Greenwich Village...but not in real life:

To go on an hourlong Mount Everest fly-by, I had to get up at 4:30 a.m. Since the quake, Nepal is enduring load-shedding, meaning times when the power is cut to conserve. Currently it is for six hours a day but there is talk it will increase to eighteen.

We were supposed to be at the airport by 5:45 for a 6:45 departure...

...but were instead in for a parade of delays:

Named for one of the biggest myths, one of the tiniest gift shops:


The plane finally took 11 a.m. It seats about 20.

The air sickness bag leaves as little to the imagination as vomiting does to the stomach:

View of Everest from the cockpit...

...and from my seat:

(It is the one to the left of the peak that looks like it is smoking.)

At Pashupatinath Temple, a holy site for Hindus, bodies from the four castes are cremated steadily. It takes a male body 2.5 hours to burn fully, a female three. Then the ashes are set adrift in the river. Among family of the deceased, crying is not allowed. After the quake, the site could not keep up with the need, forcing mass cremations. The men who perform the ritual are professionals:

The hospice on site:

Holy men live here:

It will be hard to spot me here:

Bouddhanath Stupa, a sacred Buddhist (and UNESCO World Heritage) site, which was damaged in the quake (“stupa refers to the domelike structure):

At Lincoln, the time to change classes is announced by a handheld gong:

One class greeted me with a cool sign (complete with credit to Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman artist Ty Templeton) and bats with every student:

Part of the garden behind Ken and Cris house:

A charming bakery that would also be right at home in Soho:

I have not seen tangles of wires and cables like this:

A new friend, midair:

Music, movies...and moos:

Another cow:

Jeremiah OSullivan, the risk-taking Lincoln librarian who brought me in, bore an uncanny resemblance to Bill Finger’s son Fred, and was game to pose like him: 

Less than a year earlier at the British School, on this spot stood another name of J.K. Rowling:

 The Cinema Times

My kind librarian host at the British School, Sunita Chitrakar:

The oldest high school in Nepal:

Good marketing on this brand of Himalayan bottled water:

One of the days I was in Kathmandu, elsewhere in the city a leopard walked into someone’s house. Just walked in:

Fires in the street represent hope in the future for this lovely country.