Sunday, December 10, 2017

Unveiling of "Bill Finger Way" street sign in New York

Bill Finger made history…multiple times. Including three times (to date) after his death.

  • In 1939, he wrote the first Batman story (after designing the costume).
  • He was the only comic book writer to write an episode of the 1966 TV show.
  • In 2015, he was officially (and finally) named a co-creator of Batman. This is the first time in comics history that the credit line of an A-list character has been corrected.
  • He became the focus of Hulu's first original documentary (Batman & Bill, 2017) which is also the first film based on a nonfiction picture book.

On 12/8/17, Bill Finger made history yet again. He is now the first superhero creator with a street named after him in New York City.


Bill Finger Way runs along the southern border of Poe Park in the Bronx. The street sign is at the corner of East 192nd Street and the Grand Concourse. (To get there using GPS, put in the address right across the street: 2580 Grand Concourse, Bronx.)

Here is the big moment:


The event began at 10 am and lasted about an hour. The speakers:

  • New York Councilmember Ritchie Torres, whom some predict is a future mayor of New York
  • me
  • Athena Finger, Bill's lone known grandchild
  • Steve Simmons, Bill's stepson (his mother was Bill's second wife, Lyn)
  • Kevin Conroy, voice of Batman in Batman: The Animated Series and multiple series since
  • Angel Hernandez, Director of Programs and External Relations, Bronx Historical Society 
  • a student from PS 46

Here is my speech (courtesy of Steve Ostrower):


Here are all the speeches.


The press/coverage included the following:



Attendees included the following:

  • Benjamin Cruz, Bill's great-grandson
  • Alethia Mariotta, Athena's half-sister
  • Jens Robinson, son of Jerry Robinson, co-creator of Robin and the Joker
  • Travis Langley
  • Lenny Schwartz, playwright, Co-Creator
  • Roberto Williams, playwright, Fathers of the Dark Knight
  • Julian Voloj
  • George Gene Gustines, New York Times 
  • Abraham Riesman, Vulture
  • Rocco Staino, School Library Journal
  • Danny Fingeroth
  • Paul Castiglia 
  • Thomas Sciacca
  • Art Cloos
  • Lucy Aponte, Director of the Poe Park Visitor Center
  • Delmo Walters, Jr.
  • Scout and her mom Stephanie, who came the farthest: Utah
  • my college buddies Mark Lehman and Steve Ostrower

At least two attendees reminded me that I was a bit pushy (my word, not theirs) when I was researching…but they said it with a smile and now have a greater understanding of my rationale. 

After the unveiling, a group (Athena, Benjamin, Alethia, Danny, Travis, and Art) took a tour of Poe's cottage.


Glimpses:



amNewYork 12/7/17








Councilmember Ritchie Torres



Athena Finger


Steve Simmons

Kevin Conroy



Looks like I'm grinning back at Bill.

Steve and Athena pulled the string to
unveil the sign.




The joy visible here is precious.





Bill's great-grandson Benjamin

Steve and fellow Finger advocate Travis Langley meeting




George Gene Gustines of the New York Times





Councilmember Torres received this letter from DC Comics
the night before the unveiling. No DC reps that I know of attended.


I was the last person from the unveiling to leave. 
I turned around to take one last photo of the site and
did not see till I checked the photos later that I 
inadvertently captured someone taking a photo of the 
hours-old sign.


Some photos are courtesy of Julian Voloj…who is in the process of making some Bill Finger history of his own…

I have been lobbying for a NYC memorial to Bill Finger even before my book was out. This process was not easy. But like so much else about this story, persistence finds a way.

My remarks:


My name is Marc Tyler Nobleman. I'm the author of Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, the 2012 biography of writer Bill Finger, and I appear in this year's Batman movie. No, not Justice League. Not The Lego Batman Movie. Not the direct-to-video Batman vs. Two-Face. I'm in the Hulu documentary Batman & Bill


For years I said "Batman's biggest secret is not Bruce Wayne." Not anymore.


Bill Finger wrote the first Batman story in 1939 and hundreds more over the next 25 years—including his heartbreaking (and groundbreaking) origin. He even designed the costume. But his name never appeared in the credit line in his lifetime. Meanwhile cartoonist Bob Kane drew only a fraction of the stories and for only the first few years and did not write a single Batman story in his life, but from the start, he was the sole person credited. Holy fake news, Batman!


This street renaming is a love letter to four B's: Bill, Batman, the Big Apple, and, of course, the Bronx. Bill wasn't born in the Bronx, but Batman was. According to my research, it happened on Kelly Street. Then Bill built the Bat-world from all over the borough.


In 1940-41, Bill lived at 2754 Grand Concourse. In that period, he wrote the first stories with Robin, the Joker, and Catwoman and he named the Batmobile and Gotham City. In 1941-42, he lived at 50 East 196th Street, during which time he wrote the first appearances of the Scarecrow and the Penguin and introduced what he would later name the Batcave. Right here in Poe Park, he and Bob would sit on benches and brainstorm Batman adventures.


But when Bill passed away in 1974 at age 59, many if not most Batmanians had never heard his name. He had no mainstream obituary. No funeral. No gravestone. No kidding.


When I began my book in 2006, I was led to believe he also had no heir. His only child, his son Fred, died in 1992, leaving no offspring known to comics historians.


The biggest moment of my research was when I learned that was not true: Fred did have a child, a daughter, which meant Bill had a granddaughter. I found Athena Finger, then she found the courage to fight along with her sister Alethia for her family's birthright. In 2015, after 76 years of inaccuracy, DC Comics added Bill's name to Batman. Justice has no expiration date.


One of the most instrumental people in my research was Bill's longtime writing partner Charles Sinclair. Charles gave of his time many times to articulately tell me about Bill. Yesterday I learned that on November 15, at age 93, Charles passed away. Let's take a moment to honor Bill's old friend and my new friend Charles.


Thank you all for joining us to celebrate. Fingerheads have come from as far as Utah—anyone farther? Special thanks to Athena and Benjamin for flying in from Florida. We're all indebted to New York Councilmember Ritchie Torres and his staff, especially three R's—Ronn, Rafael, and Raymond—for spearheading this tribute to two of the Bronx's most distinguished sons: the Dark Knight and the mind behind him. Batman is more than one of the world's most successful superheroes. He's one of the most iconic fictional characters of any kind of all time. That makes Bill Finger one of the most influential creators of all time.


He died too soon to see that family and fans have reclaimed his legacy, so the unveiling of "Bill Finger Way" is bittersweet. Bill Finger made history. Team Finger corrected history. Now the Bronx takes lead in honoring that history by installing this sign, the first memorial to a superhero creator in New York, the Superhero Capital of the World. Next step: a statue!


3 comments:

Whiskey Chimp said...

Thanks to a post on the 13th Dimension blog (https://13thdimension.com/how-dc-credited-bill-finger-with-creating-batman-in-1974/), I finally read the 1975 tribute to Finger by Carmen Infantino that appears in the oversized reprint of Batman #1 (Famous First Editions).

The note refers to Finger writing scripts for a Superman cartoon (presumably the Filmation series or Super Friends). Is there supporting evidence for this? I suppose he could have written unused scripts, but it's an intriguing bit.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Whiskey Chimp (great handle, btw) - yes, a Filmation cartoon: http://www.noblemania.com/2013/09/bill-fingers-sole-official-credit-in.html.

Deb Saine said...

march 31, 2018

hi, marc:

after watching the documentary, "batman and bill," today on hulu, i wanted to commend you! truly a "noble man," a writer, who championed for another man, a stranger but also a writer, who, until watching this documentary, i had never known existed let alone what his role had been in creating my all-time favorite superhero! (what a villain and a coward, by the way, that bob kane turned out to be!)

i grew up in the '60s and '70s and never missed an episode of "batman" on tv ... i read countless issues of the comics featuring the character and later when comics morphed into "graphic novels" ... i had a brief hospital stay as a kindergartner coinciding with a season of the tv show, and, for get-well gifts, my mom bought me a batman mask and cape ... i've watched most of the movies featuring batman and and rank christian bale as my favorite ... unfortunately, i had to draw the line when ben affleck was cast in the most recent incarnation ... not even the presence of "wonder woman" could get me to the theater to watch "justice league" ... and, on occasion, i catch myself humming that ridiculous theme song and sometimes posting a clip from youtube on my facebook page so that the tune gets stuck in my friends' heads as well!

but that's so off topic! anyway, i just wanted to let you know how much this "bat fan" of more than 50 years truly appreciates the documentary itself while appreciating even more the fact that, thanks to you, a terrible wrong finally has been made right and bill finger has finally received the recognition he so deserved ... congratulations and thank you!

sincerely, deb saine
im2insaine@mac.com (not iminsaine2@gmail.com)

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