Sunday, March 17, 2019

A paperweight that carries significant weight

Bill Finger left behind few belongings that we know of

I was lucky enough to inherit one of them—a paperweight. That turned out to be the first of several quirky stories revolving around this small hunk of metal.

First, it's in Bill the Boy Wonder—anachronistically.

Second, I don't take it to school visits anymore. But not for the reason you might think.

At airport security in (I believe) Reno, the TSA agent asked me to remove the paperweight from my carry-on; I (of course) would never put it in checked luggage. 

He asked what it was. I said "Bill Finger's paperweight." He (of course) asked "Who's Bill Finger?"

I said long story. 

Short version: co-creator of Batman and this paperweight is one of the only things he owned that still survives. 

He said it could be used as a weapon so I could not bring it on board.

I nearly choked.

This was several years ago and my memory of the rest of the conversation is virtually nonexistent, but I imagine I said something like this: "I know we are not supposed to negotiate, but as I mentioned, it's a one-of-a-kind and culturally invaluable. Is there anything I can say to convince you to allow me to take it?"

Somehow my desperation sold him so he did let me keep it. I realized I was risking losing it every time I took it on a flight…so I stopped taking it on flights. 

Third, the man who gave it to me, Bill's sometime writing partner Charles Sinclair, did so because he felt I would take good care of it. 

One time I didn't. (Or a second time, if you count the TSA incident.)

I tend to pack for trips at the last minute. One night before an early flight, I went to my basement office to gather a few things to pack, including the paperweight. I didn't turn on the basement light. As a carried the stack through the dark, paperweight on top, it slipped off—hitting the tiled basement floor. 

Then I turned on the light to discover a small piece had chipped off the bottom. 

I was mortified, even more so when I could not find the missing sliver. Luckily, the next day, my wife did, and she even managed to glue it back so well that you'd probably not notice.

Fourth, this everyday object has obtained a near-mythic status in my family. When my daughter was seven, out of the blue she pointed to the paperweight and said "If there was a fire and you and mommy weren't here, I would take this out for you."

I said "That's so thoughtful, sweetie pea. But if there's even a fire, just get out…

"…I'll get the paperweight."

Fifth, it's even a possibility that a paperweight that appeared once on Gotham was similar-looking on purpose…

The paperweight has been part of my presentation for schools for years, and the reveal generates one of the biggest gasps of the hourlong talk. After, kids sometime ask if I brought it, and I relay the reason why I didn't. 

If I told teachers before the talk that we will get to a point in the story when kids will have a huge reaction to seeing a paperweight, few if any would believe me.

This little beetle has proven to have power far beyond preventing papers from shuffling out of order…

Friday, March 15, 2019

"Thirty Minutes Over Oregon" wins Colonial Dames of America 2019 Young Readers Award

I'm honored to report that the Colonial Dames of America chose Thirty Minutes Over Oregon as their 2019 Young Readers Award Winner.

To quote from the notification letter, "Since 1951, the Society has recognized books of merit that chronicle American history, life, and material culture by giving an Annual Award to the author of an outstanding work and a Citation to a second well-received book. The CDA also presents an award to a book written for Young Readers."

Thank you, Colonial Dames!

Monday, February 25, 2019

"Batman & Bill" makes a timeline of Batman milestones

As we Batusi deeper into the yearlong revelry that is Batman's 80th anniversary, I was thrilled to see Bill Finger make a prominent appearance in a special publication celebrating the Dark Knight's history and influence.

Not only did Bill get a full page to himself (a far cry from previous such tributes, where he typically made little more than a cameo)...

...but he also appears on the publication's Bat-timeline three times…one of which is Batman & Bill (final entry).

(One criticism: as has happened many times online, this magazine used a photo of fellow writer Robert Kanigher for Bill.)

The page about Bill kindly mentions both the doc and Bill the Boy Wonder. I believe this is the first time a print publication has acknowledged my Bill Finger efforts without interviewing me first—in other words, this was a total and surreal surprise.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Speaking at Gettysburg College

On 11/3/18, I had the privilege of speaking at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, as part of a comic convention called LincCon (clever). Thanks to all who turned out and to the motivated students who made it possible for me to be there.

There's always one.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Batman, Bill, and Brigham Young

On 2/20/19, I had the pleasure of speaking at Brigham Young University in Provo, UT, where your backdrop is this:

I was invited by the Copyright Licensing Office. The topic was Bill Finger framed through the lens of copyright. The talk was open to anyone on campus. The turnout exceeded my expectations—surely in part due to the extensive marketing (which included free pizza).

A touch I especially appreciated: attendees filed in to a mix of songs (including "Philadelphia Freedom" by Elton John) that had all been the focus of a copyright claim. (I did not hear the two I knew of offhand, "I Want a New Drug" by Huey Lewis and the News vs. "Ghostbusters" by Ray Parker Jr. or "One Fine Day" by the Chiffons vs. "My Sweet Lord" by George Harrison.)

After, I gave a 30-minute interview to Julie Rose for Top of Mind, the daily BYU radio program (also available on other services including SiriusXM).

Thank you again to Peter Midgley for making this happen and Julie for your interest.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Weekend in Marrakesh, Morocco

My kind new friends at the Casablanca American School helped me arrange a trip to Marrakesh, which some say is the most beautiful city in the country. 

It's about two-and-a-half hours by train. I left Saturday morning and returned Sunday afternoon.

The train compartment in my section sat six, three and three facing each other; seats were assigned. On my way home, what I presume were a husband and wife were already seated when I got there. They were Muslim. The fourth to arrive was another Muslim women. I didn't understand what they said, but the husband and wife switched places so the two women would be sitting next to each other. (But they didn't speak to each other. I am sitting next to the man as I write this.)

The school warned me that Marrakesh taxi drivers try to take advantage of foreigners. They typically don't run the meter and charge whatever they want. I was therefore instructed to simply hand over 20 dirhams (about two dollars) for my six-minute ride and hop out. That wouldn't be so easy considering my bag would be in the trunk, so instead I was transparent up front. 

At the train station in Marrakesh, I got in a taxi, gave the name of my hotel, and asked him to run the meter. He said no and explained that the tariff (by which I believe he meant fixed fee) was 100 dirhams (ten dollars). I said 20, he said no, I got out. I tried again—this time only 70 dirhams, but still much more than the actual rate. It took four tries to find a guy who begrudgingly agreed to 30 though I repeated that I would paying 20. (I ended up voluntarily paying 28.)

Shortly after settling in to the hotel, I set off on a three-hour tour of the city. My guide, Adil, kindly let me choose the destinations. Midway through, he told me that his first child was born only two days ago! I asked what he was doing with me and he said he has to work; besides, he said, a lot of family were at his house. At first I took this to mean that his wife had plenty of help; I later understood it also meant he needed a break from the crowd (only to lead a stranger through another).

The main sites I saw:

  • Majorelle Gardens
  • Djemaa el-Fnaa (main square)
  • souks and beyond
  • Lazama Synagogue

Majorelle Gardens

Named for (and abounding with) Marjorelle Blue, a vibrant variation of the color that was created here.

I saw it before Instagram did.

Djemaa el-Fnaa

The famous and expansive square home to food stalls and exotic entertainment for more than 1,000 years. Here there be cobras and monkeys (and, unfortunately, animal rights violations). One snake-charmer tried to force a snake around my neck so he could force (or at least guilt) me into handing over a few coins. I resisted…but not because I wasn't prepared to spend money.

 New best friend...for a price.

 Note the sadly common sight of a monkey or Barbary ape,

souks and beyond

These dried (and dyed) flowers are an invitation into this shop, housed in the former Jewish quarter.

This is lipstick:

A defunct public fountain, used until the 1950s or '60s when people began to have running water at home:

In Marrakesh, even the laundry is colorful:

Lazama Synagogue

The area for female prayer is a fraction of the space as what the men get down below. 

Though Jews left this part of the city in large numbers after World War II, the Jewish street names remain.

A view within my hotel, floor 3:

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Casablanca American School, Morocco

The librarian who brought me to the United Nations International School in Hanoi Vietnam in 2016 kindly referred me to the new librarian of this school, Heidi Hendry. (Heidi's family had been at UNIS when I was there, and I met her husband and kids, but apparently not her.)

The majority of the student population is Moroccan. They are an exuberant bunch. Lots of hugs from elementary kids—and some local staff. Even the warm-hearted man who drove me from the airport to the hotel, the hotel to the train station, etc., but who spoke little English, embraced me at one point. I think Moroccans pride themselves on being welcoming, though I feel the people of most countries I've visited were similar (if not as huggy).

About a month before I arrived in Morocco, the king decided to do away with Daylight Savings Time—and announced it only a day or so before it was set to start. When I was picked up each morning at 7:15 am, it was dark. In fact, when I started my first session of each day at 8 am, it was still dark.

One student who was especially taken by my presentations was a middle schooler whose family had moved to Morocco from China a year earlier; he took the name Mike. He came with no English. Not only did Mike now speak English fairly well, he was not remotely shy. During his writing workshop, he took notes in both English and Chinese, asked questions, and came up to me after to ask for a signature; he also said he wanted to have a conversation with me the next day. 

The school screened Batman & Bill on Wednesday afternoon for grades 4-8 and their families. Mike came with his parents, who spoke little English. His mom had made me a modest yet lovely banner. I'm told it says "Batman (Bianfu Xia) and Bill (Bi er)" in modern Chinese script (simplified characters). The vertical column on the left is the artist's name and the date, followed by her chop in red.

The library collection includes a few rare first editions.

Heidi has a team of student volunteers, each of whom curate a shelf each week and can win an award for it.

Though many schools would like to post a sign like this (aimed at the parents), this is the only one I've seen that has followed through.

Another sign you typically don't see in schools without a significant Muslim population:

(I saw a similar sign in Malaysia.)

More than 20 years ago, the school would host an authors' festival and bring in four at a time. At one point, they hosted Norman Bridwell, creator of Clifford the Big Red Dog. He left sketches behind.

The lower school had a "design your classroom door" contest and despite my lack of training in that regard, I was honored to be named one of the judges. Two groups won first place (one for each floor of the lower school) and both reacted so cutely. Upon hearing her class won, one kindergartner shouted "I'm telling my mom!" 

 Not one of the winners, but cool.

Another piece of art I was gifted (from a gifted fourth grader):

Heidi and her supremely kind assistant, Bouchra:

Heidi and her fun family:

Our daughters are the same age and already connected on Instagram. 

Thank you, Heidi, for being so thorough, so accommodating, so protective. As is said in the movie named for your current city, this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
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