Friday, July 29, 2016

Elliot S! Maggin and Bill Finger

As a person who turned superhero geek in the '70s (right around the time I was born), onetime Superman writer Elliot S! Maggin is part of my DNA (DC nerd algorithm). He is also a graduate of Brandeis University, as I went on to be. We've never met in person but we've been in touch online and I consider him a friend.

Elliot was the living recipient of the 2016 Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing. Regrettably, I was not there to see him accept the honor but found his remarks inspiring.
I was especially touched to see that Elliot referred to Bill as "Bill the Boy Wonder."

More importantly, Elliot used the platform to call for an end to work-for-hire arrangements (in which creators get a one-time fee for their creativity, no matter how successful their work becomes). This, of course, is an issue often at the heart of the Bill Finger story, though not always properly so. (At the time of Batman's creation in 1939, Bob Kane was freelancing for National Periodicals, the company that would become DC Comics, but he and Bill created Batman on spec. Earlier, I touched on possible implications of this.)

Congrats on the award, Elliot. Thank you for your contributions to superhero culture...and now, for your contribution to creators' rights.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Telling stories through letters

Brave Like My Brother, my WWII novel for upper elementary, is told exclusively via letters between 20-year-old Joe, stationed in England, and his 10-year-old brother Charlie. 

I don't want to spoil a key detail so I will be vague: the exchange pattern is not what most will be expecting.

On a similar note, a few years ago I stumbled upon a haunting song called "Kilkelly," which also comprises a series of letters and tells the story of a struggling 19th century Irish family separated by the Atlantic Ocean.

To call the song haunting is an understatement. Not only is the story utterly heartbreaking, but the the lyrics are so deftly written. Musically, narratively, and linguistically, it's an absolute pleasure—in a devastating way—to listen to.

Brave Like My Brother released a month ago today, and as I predicted, I've been asked why I made the choice to construct it the way I did. Without revealing any twists, I can say that I did it for the following reasons:

  • to differentiate from other epistolary fiction
  • to give the reader room to fill in gaps
  • to lend an authentic feel to war correspondence

If "Kilkelly" influenced the unconventional structure of Brave Like My Brother, it was subconscious. If you read the book and/or listen to the song, I hope you feel the power of what is not said...

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Cover reveal: "The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra"

Be afraid. Be very afraid. (If you're a goat.) 

The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra, invitingly illustrated by the incomparable Ana Aranda, releases 3/7/17. Check it out...before someone (hint hint) eats it...

Sunday, July 24, 2016

"Especially good for classroom use" - Children's War on "Brave Like My Brother"

Review of Brave Like My Brother from The Children's War.

I especially appreciated that the review asks "Which brother is the hero, or are they both?" That is a central question I am hoping the book will generate in young people's minds.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

"The Caped Crusade" by Glen Weldon

Author, NPR personality, and hilarious tweeter Glen Weldon's latest book is The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, and it's racked up rave reviews. 

I'm honored to be acknowledged in it.

The biggest honor, however, goes to Bill Finger, to whom the book is movingly dedicated.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"Excels in every regard" - "Times Herald" (MI) on "Brave Like My Brother"

A roundup in the USA Today-owned Times Herald titled "Books that explore emotions" breaks new children's releases into two categories, books to borrow and books to buy. Brave Like My Brother is under the latter, with this most kind comment:

"Thoroughly engaging on every account, Brave Like My Brother excels in every regard."

Thank you!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

All known Bill Finger photos (as of now)

Prior to the start of my Bill Finger research in 2006, only two photos of Bill were generally known, the only two that the few books on Batman's history had used and reused. A third Bill photo had been published in 1941 in Green Lantern #1, but that's not an issue most people have on their coffee tables so it was mostly forgotten (plus very grainy). A fourth was published in a 1965 comic convention program, but it, too, is too grainy for its own good.

Despite what some comics folks told me, there were more photos of Bill...quite a few more. To date I have turned up 12, plus a 13th surfaced in DC Vault, a 2008 book. This makes for a current total of 17. 

Speaking of 2008, starting then I've posted most of the ones I uncovered. Here are all 17 in one shot: 

There is at least one other we know of that may be Bill, but I didn't include it because both Bill's longtime writing partner Charles Sinclair and his second wife Lyn Simmons independently said that it is not Bill. Still, you may see it this fall...

Oh, and these fellows are not Bill.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Rooftop twilight photo shoot

On 7/6/16, at 8 pm, a clandestine meeting took place on the top floor of an otherwise deserted DC-area parking garage...and neither party was named Deep Throat II.

It was much more mundane—but still fun. Bethesda Magazine is doing a story on my Bill Finger efforts for the September/October 2016 issue and wanted some dramatic, Gothamesque photos to go along with it.

Moody twilight sky: check.
Sleek, tall(ish) buildings: check.
Imposing physique with intimidating expression: oops.

Two out of three was good enough. 

The photographer, Michael, took some shots with me standing with one foot on a small guard rail and the other on a small stepladder he'd brought. When I suggested I stand instead on a (fairly wide) ledge that would offer a more striking skyline background, he nervously agreed, saying it's usually the other way around: usually he is asking the subject to do something anxiety-producing.

Not your father'sor anyone else'sBatman.

The shoot mildly and temporarily freaked out a couple of people who had just moved into the building behind me (which is new and which Michael thought was still vacant).

In an hour's span, from sunset to near-dark, we were done.

Thank you, Michael and son, for your time and graciousness. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Meet the "Flintstones" routine

In high school, I was also in the international Jewish youth group B'nai B'rith Youth Organization. Just like I now compile stray thoughts as possible fodder for books I write, I then compiled random ideas as possible fodder for the skits my friends and I would do at the biannual BBYO conventions—two highly-anticipated nights in a hotel with no parents.

I reminisced about one of those skits after Michael Jackson died.

Another came about almost subconsciously, inspired by a cartoon I didn't even like
The Flintstones. (The main thing it had going against it: it was not Scooby-Doo.)

I had a cassette of classic TV show theme songs, and one, of course, was
The Flintstones. (Though I found the show meh, how can you not like that theme?

One day when it came on, I found myself doing a (for lack of a better word) "routine" along with it. It wasn't a dance—that's above my pay grade. Almost nothing more than my hands were involved. When the music spiked up, so did my right hand. When it spiked down, so did my left hand. It all felt natural, like a universal script everyone would immediately understand. I unlocked a more "complex" routine for the closing theme and did them back-to-back—for no one.

That is, until I showed my friends. Through a turn of events lost to memory, my "Flintstones" bit became our next BBYO skit (the night of 11/19/88). It was relatively easy to learn. I thought that the more people who did it in sync, the funnier it was. Our skit had nine, all boys. We wore Ruach shorts ("Ruach," Hebrew for "spirit," was the name of our Connecticut chapter)—and nothing else. I'll spare you those photos.

So simple, so silly…and so well-received. In its favor: it was unexpected and it revolved around a catchy song everyone had known most of their lives.

On 4/28/90, during the talent show at our final convention, my friends and I redid every skit we'd put on during our time in BBYO. We called it "Ruach's Greatest Skits." (That selfishly ate up about 30 minutes of an event that was probably supposed to last only an hour.) For "Flintstones," we wore the same shorts…but also a sweatshirt from the respective colleges we'd be attending in the fall. (It was an act of mercy for the audience.)

One of those friends, Seth, went to the same college as I did (Brandeis University). Seth and I joined the college comedy troupe. As a duet, in sensible pants, almost two years to the day we first did "Flintstones," we delivered its final performance.

That is, until I showed my kids almost 25 years later.

And this time, it was filmed.

(I bring this up now partly just because and partly because this week, DC Comics launched a reimagined Flintstones series—which has gotten some scathing reviews but also some decent ones. I haven't read it but presume it's sorely lacking in hand jive.)

My bit has also gone through a bit of a reimagining. Well, I changed one gesture (and did not shout out "yabba dabba doo" with Fred): what was originally a slap is now the more sensitive snapping of a stick. (And I'm back to shorts.)  

Return with me now to the silly days of yesteryear...