Saturday, March 30, 2013

Batman is not the lead

Jerry Robinson, one of the first (and best) ghost artists on Batman, who passed away in 2011, was a member of the National Cartoonists Society.

For a time, so was I.

And so I was given a copy of the NCS membership album (50th anniversary edition, no less). 



Robinson had a long, renowned career—so long and renowned that he did not mention Batman till halfway through his NCS bio! 


Imagine having a string of accomplishments so impressive that you don’t lead with the fact that you drew the first Joker story…

We all miss you, Jerry. You were truly the goldest of the Golden Age.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" - won't you be my writer?

Thanks to Angela Santomero, with whom I have collaborated on another smaller venture, I had the opportunity to write an episode (“Fruit Picking Day”) of a recently launched TV show that spun off from a TV show I grew up on. 

The old: Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

The new: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, an animated sequel of sorts, aimed at preschoolers.




I wrote the script under tight deadline in the summer of 2010; it debuted the fall of 2012. I don’t normally write for people that young, and won’t be writing more Daniel, but this was a great challenge and a true honor. As is typical in TV, my script was reworked in parts, but my core idea (“Everyone is big enough to do something”) is there, plus it’s always fun to see one’s name in the credits of anything.

I hope one day I’ll get the chance to write for youth-directed spin-offs of other favorite shows of my formative years: Saturday Night Live, Family Ties, and The Twilight Zone.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A quiet, great honor

Being asked to speak at your alma mater...


...which, in my case, is Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. Two of my favorite college professors kindly attended. If, 20 years earlier, you would have told me...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

"Highly qualified, talented" presenter

Thank you to the Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database, a well-respected one-stop shop of youthlit reviews and other resources, for a most kind write-up about my speaking and my books.


Thank you, in particular, for calling me a “highly qualified, talented” presenter and “a fine example of the new crop of authors that are making a difference in literature that will become the ‘classics’ of the future.”

I can’t imagine that is the case but it would be impolite to not accept the compliment!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Superman and Batman origins in eight words

In All-Star Superman #1, writer Grant Morrison retold the origin of Superman in only eight artfully chosen words:


On Twitter, Dave Lartigue (@daveexmachina) retold the origin of Batman in only eight artfully chosen words:


I call this All-Star Bill Finger.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Brandeis University humor magazine, 1991

As a freshman in college, I contributed text pieces and cartoons to Gravity, the just-born (and still-going) campus humor magazine. 

I wrote a fake application to be a freshman orientation leader; hello, beeping Smith-Corona word processor!

I remember thinking my running joke about the amount of space allotted per question was subtle: 


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Open Book and Turning the Page

I was honored to recently participate in two Washington DC literacy-themed events on the same day, 3/12/13. Both bring authors of books for young people to schools that do not have the resources to do so on their own.

In the afternoon, I spoke at Bancroft Elementary under the auspices of Open Book. Thanks to a generous contribution from the Junior League, every student in the audience received a signed copy of one of my books. (To be clear, the Junior League contributed the books. I contributed the signature.)



That evening, I made my fourth appearance at a school for Turning the Page, this time at the Walker-Jones Education Campus. 



I especially loved the school Internet password:


I spoke first to a combined group of parents and their children (ranging from itty bitty to what looked like middle schoolers if not high schoolers). Then the kids left for superhero-themed activities and I took questions from the parents.

After, I signed books that were, again, generously provided, this time by TTP. One woman who got a Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman signed then asked “What can I do to help you fight for Bill Finger?”

I told her she just did.

Whether or not you buy or even read my book, please share the story of Bill Finger. Awareness will lead to action. Action may lead to redemption.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Ghost-hunting authors: Halloween on St. Patrick's Day


I wrote a book about ghost hunting that came out in 2007.


But it was not until 2013 that I went on a ghost hunt. 

Fun in and of itself made all the more so because my fellow ghost hunters were also fellow authors.

We came together for the 45th annual Children’s Literature Festival at the University of Central Missouri. By day, we are collectively speaking to the 4,200 students who will attend.

 me, Roland Smith, Brad Sneed, Michael Spradlin


But by night, or at least the night of 3/17/13, we went in search of the supernatural. 

We were a sizable group—perhaps 40 total.

with nametag: Darleen B. Beard; in red scarf: Brenda Seabrooke; 
in beret: Roland Smith; in disbelief: various

Ghost huntress Alane Ferguson was our intrepid guide. 

Alane demonstrating the laser thing 
(green twinkles on lampshade and curtain)

And she came equipped. She distributed her various gizmos (heat sensors, electrical sensors, infrared camera, etc.) among us.

the doohickey I got to use

We set out for the third floor of Yeater Hall, a dorm built in 1940 and allegedly haunted by at least two ghosts.




  Antony John and me


The first ghost we saw:


The first and second floors of this building are in use by students (who are on spring break). But the third floor has been off limits since 2000. We got special access because we, well, have no special paranormal training whatsoever.

We spent a little over an hour spread out along the dilapidated third floor and the numerous rooms off of it; most still contained basic furniture such as wooden bed frames and dressers. The green and red lights of our detection devices dotted the otherwise dim hallway.


It turns out that dorm bathrooms abandoned 13 years ago look 
strangely similar to dorm bathrooms in active use.

And we were, it seemed, not alone.

Things happened. 

Things none of us—even the science writers, as far as I know—could explain.

Things including the following:


  • hallway lights that were off suddenly flickering
  • dark blotches (some said figures) appearing in a patterned laser light display
  • a warm hallway cooling down considerably in an instant
  • most startlingly, flashlights turning on and off and rolling off tops of dressers without (living) human involvement



Dorinda Nicholson, Brenda Seabrooke, Vivian Vande Velde in mirror 
observing a flashlight that (no joke) turned on and off by itself...many times

Ghosts? 

Some among us would say yes. Including me.

 Henry Cole, teacher Casey, me, Antony John in light

  Henry Cole, teacher Casey, me, Antony John in dim

Sunday, March 17, 2013

“Pranklopedia”

If you are partial to pranks, you would be a fool not to pick up a this new book by a former editor of Nickelodeon Magazine (RIP).


I had the pleasure of working with author Julie Winterbottom and believe you me him and her, she’s ultra-qualified to deliver such a book.

Mind you, she’s never pranked me. Or maybe she has and she’s just so good that I still haven’t realized it.

The marketer in me is forcing the rest of me to mention that the book is coming out just in time for April Fool’s Day.

But to pranksters, AFD is amateur 24-hours. Why unleash a prank on the one day everyone is expecting it? Master pranks are ambushes.

In other words, you need this book every day of the year. Prank you for reading.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

“Bill the Boy Wonder” around the world

On 8/26/12, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman was featured in a splashy spread in la Republicca, which, according to Wikipedia, is the largest-circulation Italian daily newspaper. I still do not know what it says.  




Around the same time, I was interviewed over the phone for an Irish radio show.


And an interview I gave for the Knowledge@Wharton (yes, the business school) was posted multiple times in English…and at least once in Chinese.


And perhaps my book has not been to Turkey, but Batman has:


 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bringing the universe down to earth

One of the most striking nonfiction picture book covers in memory is for Manfish, written by my friend Jennifer Berne.


Jennifer recently mentioned that she’d heard a story on the radio about Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. DC Comics consulted him on determining the “real” location of Krypton, Superman’s home planet, and then wrote him into a Superman story on the topic.

I told her that I’d heard it, too, and had immediately contacted Tyson to propose a Superman speaking engagement. 


Turns out Jennifer had a connection to Tyson as well, dating back to 2005, before she was a published author. It relates to her now-upcoming nonfiction picture book about Albert Einstein. She’s graciously allowed me to share it:


After our exchange, she followed up with Tyson. As of this writing, she’s still waiting for a response, but in the meantime has received blurbs from acclaimed biographer Walter Isaacson and well-known astronomer Bob Berman, AKA “Skyman Bob.” (Isaacson’s request in exchange: a signed copy.)

I love a few things about this sequence of events.

First, that both Jennifer and I reached out to the same esteemed figure (albeit at different times and for different reasons).

Second, that Jennifer continues to pursue this with the hope that Tyson will make good on his kind offer; most anyone who has heard me present knows how highly I value initiative and confidence.

Third, that Tyson (and others) agreed to blurb based on quality alone. Jennifer was not a known quantity; she was not even published yet. This speaks highly of both Tyson and Jennifer.

As I see it, a blurb from someone so well-known is like a shooting star: special and hard to come by.

I predict that the cover of Jennifer’s Einstein book will boast no fewer than five notable names: Isaacson, Berman, Tyson, Einstein himself…and Berne.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Seldens Landing Elementary, Leesburg, VA


On 3/8/13, I had the privilege of doing three assemblies at a lovely school in Virginia. I usually leave for a school visit an hour earlier than the GPS indicates because you can never (as in ever) be late. In this case, because of zero traffic, it meant I arrived an hour early.

The kids hit their cues like pros: enthusiastic when appropriate and pindrop silent at the right times. After presentations, kids often come up to authors to say hi, high five, fist bump, ask another question, get an autograph, or share a drawing. Authors love when a teacher or librarian tells us that one of those students was not one he or she would have expected. That’s what it’s about—making connections, reinforcing what teachers do every day, and finding another way to excite kids (especially reluctant readers/writers) about the arts. It makes the soul race.

My hand got a workout, too:


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Is “Bill the Boy Wonder” a children’s book?

Yes, but also an all-ages picture book. Think about it this way: pancakes are established as a breakfast food but have you ever had them for dinner? Thought so.

At the Nerdy Book Club, I explained why I believe Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman is a picture book for everyone. In short, I want kids to grow up knowing that the “Batman created by Bob Kane” credit they’re seeing on every Batman story is not true. And I want adults who are interested in Batman or pop culture history to finally have a Batman creation story in which Bill is where he rightfully belongs—at the center.



Many reviewers have been kind to cover the book, and many have addressed the for-kids vs. for-all debate. Though every review—but one—I have seen has been complimentary, what I am about to quote are not necessarily the most humbling parts but rather the parts addressing how the book is, in their eyes as mine, for any age.

Don’t be fooled. This one isn’t just for kids—adults will get tons out of it, too. A must-have for any Batman fan.

Great adult biography masked as a children’s book. … Some of the subject matter touched on here and in the [author’s note], where Mr. Nobleman tells of how he researched the book, should be read by adults. It’s a fast read and if you want to know more about your comic book history it is a must read. Bill the Boy Wonder is a wonderful book.

For grown-ups, there’s an excellent, all-prose, six-page article marked “Author’s Note” at the end, fleshing out the…story…with plenty of detail and discussing Nobleman’s process of research for the book. … For us grown-ups interested in comics, … this is another fine book.

The author’s note is straight prose and contains a lot of information about the legal issues surrounding Finger and his legacy. Not really kids’ stuff, but very interesting and useful for guys like me. Nobleman also includes a bibliography with a number of relatively obscure sources that might be worth tracking down.

The book is a quick read and contains more information about Finger that was new to me than Larry Tye’s latest 400+ page book has new (to me) information about Superman. Until/unless Nobleman announces he’s going to do a full-on, aimed-at-the-adult-comics-crowd biography, Bill the Boy Wonder is definitely worth picking up.
It’s a children’s book…only it isn’t. Marc did years of research into Finger’s life, finding more and more previously unknown bits of information about his life and career, and shares it all here.
The body of the book, illustrated by the wonderful comics writer/artist Ty Templeton, tells the basic tale of Bill’s involvement in the creation of Batman as we now know it. A more detailed and adult-oriented set of “notes” at the end reveals even more about the mysterious writer as well as about Marc’s research itself.
 
Marc’s choice of format is interesting as it gets the word out to even the youngest Batman fans who are likely to find this book in libraries for years to come that “Bob Kane” is not the be-all and end-all he wanted everyone to think he was. In later years, even Kane acknowledged that Bill had a much bigger role in the iconic character’s creation than he had previously admitted.
 
For kids, it’s a big colorful picture book with a story both interesting and a little sad. For adult fans, it’s a rare chance to get to know more about someone whose work you’ve admired for years…whether or not you ever heard his name.


This book will appeal to a wide audience. The children and adults who are fascinated with Batman will be one group who is attracted to this picture book for older children. Those who like biographies with a bit of mystery will enjoy it as well. 

Nobleman conveys a lot of information in very little space. It’s a fascinating story in its own right and shows how much work went into creating Bill the Boy Wonder.

Some have asked why I have not done a longer biography of Bill Finger, or if I will. Between the book and this blog, for children and adults, I have shared the biggest previously unknown details my research uncovered, just as I have done with Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman. And I will continue to do so, free of charge, as new info comes my way. 

2/21/14 addendum: A nicely written 2/14/14 Amazon review is titled “A Young Adult title that’s worth an Adult’s time.”

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Great-grandson of Bill Finger (and Batman)

Bill Finger, co-creator of Batman, died 1974.

Bill’s son Fred Finger, died 1992.

Bill’s granddaughter Athena Finger, born 1976.

Bill’s great-grandson Ben, born in the 2000s.

For a while, kids did not believe Ben when he said who his great-grandfather co-created.

Last year, on the school bus, a boy told Ben that he read Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, which mentions Athena. This boy somehow looked up Athena and saw that she was indeed Ben’s mom. 



Now the kids believe Ben.

Friday, March 8, 2013

“Stellar” - Mr. Schu on “Bill the Boy Wonder”

Librarian and childrens book prophet Mr. Schu (secret identity: John Schumacher) kindly interviewed me about Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, including some of the most fun questions I’ve been asked about the book, including Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about...”

Oh, Mr. Schu read more books last year than you…and me…and those three other guys…combined. I think he read a complete book just since you have been reading this post.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Superman after Shabbat, Batman on the bimah

The fall of 2012, I was in synagogue a lot. I’m talking beyond the High Holy Days.

On 10/21/12, I spoke about Superman at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, MD.

On 10/28/12 (as the hurricane Sandy approached), I spoke about Superman and Batman at Adas Israel in Washington DC.



On 11/11/12, I returned to Beth El in Bethesda, MD. In the spring, I had spoken there on Superman. This time it was Batman.


 

 © Mitchell Solkowitz

After my Beth Ami talk, a young woman told me she’d recently learned the American Sign Language sign for Superman. It was so cool and something that had never occurred to me. (I also learned that Batman doesn’t have his own.)

My kind host at Adas told me that some of its nursery school kids would wait in front of the electronic bulletin board in the lobby for the Superman/Batman advertisement to come on. Adorkable. (To be clear, I’m the dork. They’re the rest.)
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