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Comic Riffs
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Posted at 10:22 AM ET, 01/18/2014

Batman’s ‘secret’ co-creator died 40 years ago today. What’s it take to get him some credit? *(A.: Author hopes Google can help.)

BATMAN will enjoy tributes as loud and thunderous as Gotham this year, as the Caped Crusader celebrates his 75th anniversary.

The man who helped form Batman’s origin, however — the late cartoonist who so crucially aided the acclaimed Bob Kane — may receive only the most muted of memorials this year, upon would what have been his 100th birthday.

Not that author Marc Tyler Nobleman isn’t trying to do something about it, as he aims to shine a public Bat-light on Bill Finger, who died 40 years ago today in New York.

In 2012, Nobleman saw the publication of his book, “Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman” (illustrated by Ty Templeton), in which he lays out the case of Finger’s crucial early contributions to the Bat universe — from “concept to costume to character.” The author spoke at bookstores and libraries and comic conventions, illuminating the rightful place of Finger, whose full role — like Batman himself — often lurked only in the shadows.

Now, Nobleman is hoping Google will help take up the case in one of the most public ways possible — by featuring Finger next month in a home-page birthday Doodle. (The cartoonist would have turned 100 on Feb. 8.) The campaign is a reflection not only of the reach of Google’s digital “billboard,” but also of the author’s commitment to seeing Finger receive his public due.

Comic Riffs recently caught up with Nobleman to talk about his years-long fight on behalf of Finger:


(Marc Tyler Nobleman and Ty Templeton / CHARLESBRIDGE 2012 )

MICHAEL CAVNA: Please peel back the layers on the origin story, Marc — how did your Google Doodle campaign begin?

MARC TYLER NOBLEMAN: By now, Google Doodles are such a part of everyweek life that the idea was bound to hit me at one point. In early 2012, before “Bill the Boy Wonder” came out, I proposed a Doodle in conjunction with the opening of [the film] “The Dark Knight Rises.” That didn’t happen. So in 2013, I re-pitched it for an even more momentous occasion — in fact, a triple occasion in 2014: [Finger’s] 100th birthday, the 40th anniversary of his death, and the 75th anniversary of Batman. ...

I contacted comics media to help me build momentum, and just about everybody I asked has been kind to help. I’ve seen hundreds of tweets and been copied on emails to Google. It’s been a thrill to see this gain so much support.

MC: Obviously, this feels like a natural outgrowth, and in the spirit, of

your [2012] Bill Finger book. When did you first become aware of how

much Finger had been slighted by Kane, DC et al. — and how did you

become his champion?

MTN: I don’t remember when I learned of Bill Finger other than that it was after I graduated college in 1994. I actually have a recording of myself in college discussing Batman’s real-life origin, in which I make no mention of Bill.

I didn’t plan on becoming his champion; for a while, I wasn’t sure I would become his biographer! But it’s hard to put forth a tragic story like his and then feel compelled to do more on behalf of his legacy.

MC: You and I have spoken before about your attempts to get Finger recognized in [Christopher] Nolan’s Batman films — with filmmakers likely facing legal crediting issues beyond their control. Do you think knowledgeable folks like Nolan and Tim Burton would credit Finger if they could?

MTN: As it currently stands, even the mighty Christopher Nolan could not legally credit Bill as co-creator. However, prior to “The Dark Knight,” I asked DC if they could use non-subjective language to acknowledge Bill. I proposed: “Batman was first called ‘the Dark Knight’ in Batman #1, in 1940, in a story written by Bill Finger.” DC publications already regularly credit Bill for that story, and the movie’s title doesn’t even include the word “Batman” — it is wholly a phrase coined by Bill Finger.

Alas, they said no.

MC: You and your book have traveled to numerous cons and libraries and schools — do you find many sympathetic ears, let alone converts?

MTN: Almost exclusively, I’m happy to report. In fact, since many of my audiences are forced to be there — i.e. students — it’s not a given that many will even be superhero fans. Yet the story is so compelling that it tends to win over just about every crowd. People cry. I have seen it, and people have e-mailed me afterward to confess it.

MC: Where do you think you’ve found the most success in raising awareness about Finger’s contributions?

MTN: The comics industry, generally speaking, doesn’t take much convincing to say that Bill deserves more than he gets. I haven’t noticed any distinctions among subdivisions of the industry. I’d say I’ve found the most success spreading the word via the comics media — this being a prime example — and the fans.

MC: Have you had any direct communication with Google and have you heard anything back? [Note: Google told Comic Riffs this week that they had no comment on this matter.]

MTN: I have not heard from Google. In 2009, they ran a DC Comics doodle including Batman. I should note that I was not proposing Google use Batman in the flesh. They’ll have to get creative like we had to do for the cover of “Bill the Boy Wonder.”

MC: How hopeful are you for success — now or eventual — on the Google Doodle front?

MTN: I feel like if they’re going to do it at all, they’ll do it for this triple anniversary. Fingers crossed. Pun intended.

MC: Can you name a few of the higher-profile people who have acknowledged Finger’s full contributions to you? Have you heard from a Jim Lee or Frank Miller, a Neil Gaiman or Neal Adams — or perhaps even Adam West? [Note: In knowing acknowledgment, San Diego Comic-Con has a Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing.]

MTN: I briefly communicated with Adams during my research but have not been in touch since; I often say that had Bill lived past 1974 — [in other words[ lived through the Siegel and Shuster settlement of 1975 — he may have been the next figure [that] people like Adams went to bat for. Several comics pros have been most kind to the book: Perhaps [there are] more I don’t know about. Mike W. Barr — a longtime Bill booster — dedicated his story in Detective #27 to Bill, and considerately e-mailed me in advance to tell me. These guys write about heroes for a living. They know that justice has no expiration date.

By  |  10:22 AM ET, 01/18/2014

Tags:  batman, bill finger, marc tyler nobleman

 
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