[00:00:00] Alex: Cause like I was like, I’m trying to find like Egyptologists, like don’t ever Google, like, you know, Egyptologists for hire like in Google. You’re not going to find anything. Welcome to bat lessons. The Batman history podcast. I am Alex Cash and I am joined today by Brian, the Cape Crusader Anders. And today we have with us and incredible guests.
[00:00:25] Brian: That’s right. If you’ve been following along with the show, you’ll remember the homework we gave you an episode two was to go watch the documentary called Batman and bill. If you listen to that episode, you heard all the, uh, all about the inception of Batman, the story of bill finger and Bob Kane, if you didn’t do either of those things, please stop now, go back because we’re going to assume that you know, all of that story for today,
and you’re going to be completely
If you have not done those things,
[00:00:55] Alex: That’s right. Today on the program we have Marc Tyler nobleman. Mark is the author of 86 books ranging from colorful and funny. Children’s fiction about chupacabras to incredible moving all ages, non fiction about reconciliation after world war II. Mark’s body of work is astounding without his contributions to our understanding of Batman.
But if you kept up with the homework, and listened to the episodes in order, you’ll know that mark dedicated years of. his life to fighting for the legacy of bill finger And the now credited co-creator of Batman In 2006, he started digging into the story of the creation of Batman and in 2012, he authored bill, the boy wonder and all ages retelling of that true story for years, mark waged an advocate. Pain to set the record straight on the creation of Batman and get bill finger, the credit he deserved in September, 2015 due in no small part to the work that mark did. DC comics agreed to include bill as a creator of Batman, wherever that credit is shown. And in 2017, mark was featured prominently and a feature length documentary about the fight for Bill’s credit called Batman and bill and to this day, he continues to compile new bits of history about bill on his blog, Nobel mania.com, ever expanding our knowledge and understanding of the subject. we’re incredibly lucky. and honored to have mark on the program. Thanks for coming, mark.
[00:02:05] Marc: thank you for having me, Alex.
[00:02:07] Brian: It’s now been 15 years since you started the bill finger journey. 10 years since the book came out and seven years since DC gave bill credit and then five years since the documentary, do you ever reflect back on that journey and what you’ve accomplished?
[00:02:23] Marc: I do reflect back. I mean, it’s part of the fabric of my life. It’s, you know, that this, this commitment, you know, it’s longer than I was in high school. It’s longer than I was in college. These formative periods of your life. It’s not longer than my marriage or my kids anymore. My kids are not older than my Batman they’ll finger journey, but yeah, it’s hard to spend that much time doing something and not reflect back.
I mean, I don’t sit down every day and, you know, put it on the calendar as if something to think about, but it’s become a, you know, a defined. Part of my career, probably the defining part of my career so far and certainly of my life. So yeah, I do think about it quite often with, with fondness and also sometimes a bit of, of, um, wistfulness, because you know, it was such a, it was such a thrill and now it’s over.
So because you know, mission accomplished,
uh, you have to move on to your next cause.
[00:03:16] Brian: Of course. So even today you continue to find information about bill and posted on your blog. so that work is still ongoing. A few different times. People have talked about a biographical movie for bill. Do you think there’s another big chapter in the bill finger story? do you envision yourself as part of that chapter?
[00:03:32] Marc: I do, but let me backtrack for one moment. When you talk about adding to my blog and adding to the bill finger record, I would not be doing this podcast if it were not for Alex who took the time to reach out to me and give me the backstory of this small, but cool detail in the bill finger story, which is this paperweight that he owned toward the end of his life, which I had the good fortune of inheriting.
And this paperweight has taken on a life of its own, both in my family and fandom in a way. people ask me about it fairly often and it’s on my blog a lot and it’s in the book. So thank you, Alex, publicly for taking the time to reach out and give me the backstory of the production of this paperweight.
All I knew before you was that it was purchased in a museum gift shop. I never thought twice about that. I just thought it was one of a million chotchkies that are untraceable throughout, throughout modern history. But. You know, gave me all these great details, which I then with his permission, share it on my blog.
I won’t get into it here. Um, but if anyone’s interested, that is on my blog. Thanks to Alex. so back to your question, Brian, uh, I do think there is plenty more room for more bill finger content. you know, he hasn’t had a voice really in this yet he’s in my book, but you’re, you’re, you’re in a sense of step removed from him because I’m quoting what little interviews he gave. And also that book has a, has a certain focus and a certain approach that, you know, is not, it’s not comprehensive. So yeah, I think there could easily be a scripted feature or series involving bill. And, and your question asked if I would be involved too. I mean, that would probably not be up to me, but I do think that it adds something to it.
Bill’s story stands alone, but there’s a nice parallel between. Writers. And, um, you know, the, the idea of going back and forth and time as it is, is could be appealing to some filmmakers or some creators looking at what bill did and what people are doing. We’re doing in the then present to try to give this man his legacy back.
So there’s a lot, there’s more story that
[00:05:40] Alex: The more, I think about your work, the more I’m blown away about how timely it was. you spoke to so many incredible people who are No. longer with us. and the book you gave special, thanks to Charles Sinclair, Lynn Simmons, Carmine Infantino, Jerry Robinson, Jerry bails, Tom Fagan. all of these people you spoke to are, are, have, have passed on.
Do you have some sense that the history of bill was fleeting, Um,
and that if you didn’t act that the story might not be told.
[00:06:10] Marc: absolutely. I felt chased from the first day. I felt like the hourglass had already been turned over and was halfway empty because those people you named and a handful of more golden age artists or writers were the only living people that knew bill personally. And there were, I’m sure there were more that I probably not more golden age artists or writers, but more people from his personal life that I, I possibly could have found, but, you know, even finding one was great because again, bill only gave four known interviews in his life and that’s not enough for someone of his cultural significance.
So to find people that had not been interviewed. Uh, mainly the people from his private life. So that would be his second wife Lynn and his time friend and writing partner, Charles Sinclair, whom you mentioned those people had essentially new information or at least new to the public. So it was, for me, it was vital to find those people and win them over or make them feel comfortable enough to talk with me.
And luckily with both those two Lynn and Charles, it was not a hard sell. They were both honored and thrilled to be able to talk about bill, same with all the other people I found for the most part, they were happy to talk about them as well. There’s one, um, here’s one interesting little anecdote. You might’ve seen this on my blog.
I was speaking with Arnold Drake who was best known for co-creating dead man, and the doom patrol, including beast, boy. So pretty significant characters now by then and now, but now they’re coming into their own with multimedia, you know, they’re, they’ve appeared in other, forms. And he was saying that, oh, you know, you should talk to.
You should talk to this guy, Charles Cashton. He was another writer. He knew bill. He worked with bill on the animated sixties. I don’t know how Arnold said it, but what bill did do was he wrote an episode or two of the 1960s, Superman cartoons. I think they were Filmation. So he said, I don’t know exactly how to reach them, but this is his last known state or where city Navy.
I forget exactly that detail. and so when we hung up the phone, I looked up try to try to find Charles Cashton and he had died that week.
[00:08:18] Alex: Um,
[00:08:19] Marc: So that is exactly the fire that had been lit under my butt. Since the start where you know, these people are in their eighties or nineties, you can’t wait a day.
You can’t say I’m going to knock off for the
night. Tonight’s the night to try to find someone because it might be the.
[00:08:34] Brian: Wow. That’s
[00:08:37] Alex: I’m, I’m, uh,
I, I’m a software engineer. I’m not, I’m not really a journalist, but I’m into history. Um, and, and I’m an anxious person. I’m like a nervous person. Um, so, you know, you mentioned that I reached out to you about, about the paperweight, the scarab paperweight.
Uh, you know, I I’m so nervous when I do something like that.
Cause I I’m embarrassed about saying something stupid, you know, after I hit send I’m reading it again, you know, going like, uh, you know, did I, did I word it right? Like, did he read it? um, and I’m, I’m just reaching out to one person. You talked to many, many, many people, you know, cold calls, emails, what’s that like, trying to chase those things down.
[00:09:17] Marc: yeah. It’s um, I don’t know that. I would say that I’m anxious the way you just described it, but I certainly, I have this. I do have.
Uh, I just ha I have this aversion to wanting to waste people’s time. I don’t like to feel like I’m wasting anyone’s time and probably nobody does, but at the same time, it’s, I have to convince them that what I’m doing has merit. So I have a F you know, a fraction of a moment if I’m calling and with people that are in their, you know, seventies and older calling is really, unless they’re super young at heart and have an internet presence already, it’s gotta be a call. I mean, it’s, even if you find an email, I mean, it’s unlikely that they’re going to be so quick on the draw for
that. So it’s almost always a call. And I don’t like that because, you know, even though we, we grew, I grew up in the analog era where you had no choice, but to call first, you couldn’t text and say, can I call you? You just called? So I have that in my background and my upbringing, but I still do w you know, hesitate because what if it’s a bad time?
What if I’m interrupting. What am I interrupting something more important? Um, but then I think about the bigger picture, which is that, you know, yes, I’m doing this for my own means my own, my own, um, goal, but I have a larger goal, which is I’m trying to document a story for, you know, people beside myself and people that will be here after me.
So I get over it and I call and, you know, maybe I’m a little nervous, but never so nervous that I don’t. Um, and I just have to, I just, it’s part of, you know, the process is to just figure out how to be a psychologist with people and how to, you know, get them to feel comfortable with you. and with older people, it’s especially challenging.
And in some cases, I mean, there were times where I would call someone who doesn’t know who I am, of course. And I would say I got to the point where I would, I would say, my name is mark. I’m an author. I’m not selling anything. I would have to say that right away, because a lot of people assume you’re a
[00:11:13] Brian: Yeah.
[00:11:14] Marc: And with one person, I remember he said, I said I I’m. And I would also specify that I’m a children’s book author, because I thought that sort of would endear me a little, might endear me quicker. It’s not really manipulative because it’s true. And this person said, and I said, I’m calling, with a research question and he said, I’m not interested.
And I said, well, that’s okay. You don’t have to be interested, but I’m hoping that you’ll be, you know, willing to take a second or two of your time to help me out for this, for this book, which is again for more than just me. And he said, I’m not buying your book. And I said, I’m not, I’m not selling my book.
In fact, there may not be a book I have, I have no book under contract. I’m doing the research to hopefully sell a book. So don’t worry, I’m not selling a book, but they just keep assuming that you’re eventually going to get around to a sales pitch. So, you know, you just keep
going until they either hang up or, or, or,
[00:12:09] Alex: w w w once you break down those walls, do you end up making a personal connection with some of these people, you know, in the, in the documentary, you know, there’s maybe, you know, three to five minutes of like Charles Sinclair in particular, and I’m just thinking, this is such a warm person, you know, there’s that he seemed like, so kind and, and cared so much about his friend.
and I have the sadness about losing someone I never met, you know,
[00:12:36] Brian: Yeah.
[00:12:37] Alex: what’s that? like to talk to someone and then, and then
have them pass on.
[00:12:42] Marc: Yeah, well,
[00:12:43] Brian: Um,
[00:12:44] Marc: it’s tough. I did, I did grow very fond of Charles and Lynn, um, and Carmine and Jerry as well, but they were more in the public eyes. So I, I, I didn’t feel like, uh, I had an exclusive on them in a way, but with Charles and Lynn, I found them, I mean, they knew who they were, but I was the, the, the, the writer who found them in and involve them with this story.
I did grow quite fond of both of them. And I was really sad when they both pass. In fact, I was especially sad that I couldn’t go to either of their funerals for, for, for different reasons. but you know, when I found them both, they were very vivid and very lucid and very sharp for mid eighties.
Really great. They would both call me at times. Um, you know, Charles sometimes when I’d call him, he was, you know, he was not able to talk at that moment because he had to go to the gym. So these were not, you know, shrinking violet, elderly folks who were just sitting on a couch, you know, w you know, writing out their last days, they were still doing things with their life.
but also again, very willing to take time to help me do my part for Bill’s legacy. So, yeah, I was very fond of them, both, and I was also thrilled that both of them lived long enough to see the credit change and be in the documentary, although not sure that Charles saw the documentary. Um, but I remember calling Lynn in particular to tell her that bill got
credit, and that was really quite bad.
[00:14:03] Alex: Yeah, I, that sounds so special.
[00:14:05] Brian: so I guess that’s the human element of reaching out and doing research, you know, talking to people and so on. but there are other difficult things about the work that you do as well. Like Warner media is a massive company. They have a, like a $15 billion market capitalization. Did you ever get the sense that you were poking a hornet’s nest?
[00:14:31] Marc: well, not really because I was right. I mean, I w I, we knew they knew, and I knew obviously that, that this happened the way that I was going to be telling it. So if I was the first guy. If I was the Jerry bails back in the sixties, I might’ve been a bit nervous not knowing how this would play out, but now that we’ve seen, you know, we had seen those name in print many, many times before he was given co-creator status, but that’s what he, that was what we needed to have happen, but he w they were not completely neglecting the man’s legacy.
They just were doing just enough to get, you know, to, I think,
you know, what they were doing was accurate. It was just not the full story. So I didn’t feel like they would say, you know, this guy is, you know, shorten up secrets. It wasn’t a secret really. I mean, it was a secret to a lot of fans who just didn’t know, but it wasn’t a secret to them.
In fact, another anecdote about that when I was, uh, going through a book called the Batman, the complete history by Les Daniels, which came
out probably around
1997 or eight, right. that was my first one of my first texts that I use as reference.
And there were several quotations in that book from bill that I saw nowhere else. And I really think I an overturned every stone on this. So I emailed this at the time. Uh, he had, he passed away since, but at the time I was able to reach him and he said, oh, that was a while ago. I don’t have my notes. I don’t know where the, where those quotations came from, which was frustrating because I mean, as a writer, you really have to be able to source everything.
At least that’s how I do it. Most, most people would want to do that. You want to have, keep your notes because you never know what’s going to come up. So skip ahead a few years. And I was talking with a man named Tom Fagan, whom you mentioned to Alex, he was a super fan who also, um, was gracious with his time before he passed away with me.
And. He ended up passing away during my research. And I was told that his house was a treasure trove of comics history. And I knew there was bill finger’s stuff in there because I knew Tom had met bill and interviewed bill, but no one had ever produced that interview as far as we knew. So I was given the green light to come up to his house in Vermont and sleep on the couch and look through the stuff there while he was alive.
then I spoke with someone else who knew Tom and said, well, if you have time, but I’ll tell you that, a team of five people working eight hours a day for a month straight would not even put a dent in his, in his material. It’s just extremely daunting. So if I was a young man with no, you know, no family, no commitments, no mortgage.
I would have probably done it in a heartbeat, but that’s not reality for me. So I had to take a pass on that for the moment. But then when he passed away, uh, someone that I’d been introduced to who was one of his friends in the end. Was part of the team go through his house and they found this eight page or 10 page document.
The one that I had wanted to find, I wish I knew how long it took them or what at what stage of the process, but they found it and they sent it to me. It’s on my blog. And in that document is every single quotation from Les Daniel’s book. But Les didn’t remember, or didn’t tell me, maybe I think he just probably didn’t remember, which means that DC comics had a copy of that on, in their archives and gave I’m assuming and gave it to less.
Otherwise he, Les was, did not, I don’t believe us was in touch with Tom Fagan. So Tom did mention that it seems unlikely, which means that DC had this information all along. So
again, it, wasn’t like I was,
and they gave it
to an author who used it
[00:18:22] Alex: Right.
Not just that
[00:18:23] Marc: they weren’t exactly a
nest. They produced it.
or they authorized it. So, I do, I think it’s safe to say that they didn’t want any. Making more trouble for them than necessary. I mean, you know, they would have, I think continued as they were forever, if they could have, I mean, as any company, would they, no one, you know, they’re not a human being with a heart, they’re a business.
So it, th there’s no incentive for them really to say, look, this is not right. Let’s drop everything. Find an air, give her money, give him credit and make a big story about it. They just don’t have the, even though it looks great PR wise, they don’t have the resources that we can send them to do that. So I don’t feel like I was poking a hornet’s nest.
In fact, I do feel like people on staff probably were happy that some guy was doing this because they all, a lot of people that worked for DC comics were fans first. And if you ask them confidentially off the record, what do you think about bill finger’s name? Being on Batman? They’d say absolutely. I wish it could happen tonight.
They’re not there. There’s no, there’s no animosity about it. So I feel like people were saying, well, we can’t do it. Cause we work here,
the family wasn’t able to do it.
So let’s us. Some, some nobody tried to do it and see how far.
[00:19:27] Alex: well, and there were so many people that were sort
of DC adjacent, like, Kevin Smith and, and Michael Uslan and Kevin Conroy, you know, like you, you were able to sort of marshal a, uh, campaign, uh, you know, uh, public, uh, and they, they were, they came out of the woodwork, right. They, they did podcasts and panels and, um, what was it like meeting those people and And.
working with them
[00:19:51] Marc: it was great. I mean, they were all the three you mentioned were extremely gracious. Kevin Smith put me on his fast, fast tracked man to his podcast in January, 2014, because we were, I was trying for a Google doodle for bill for his 100th birthday, which was in February, 2014. So less than a month later in the back of my mind, I figured look, they’ve probably planned these things out for years in advance.
So. You know, the queen of England, you know, calls in. I don’t think they’re going to, they’re going to change their, their schedule for us. But, uh, it was really nice that he was willing to do that. You’d never heard of me. None of these people had ever heard of me. same with Michael useless. He, he gave me a blurb for the back for the book, you know, and again, didn’t know me didn’t end and just believed in the cause it was not about me.
It was about bill. They were doing it for bill Kevin Conroy, super gracious guy. Did that panel that you mentioned also Kevin also all three of those guys did that panel. I did in New York in 2014 and I just, uh, you know, I was, I was humbled, but I, then I realized, well, it’s not really my place to be humbled because this is as I keep saying not about me.
Um, so, and they, they went above and beyond. I mean, you know, Michael was in the documentary, so it was Kevin. Uh, Kevin Conway came to the, to the street renaming in the Bronx when the Bronx, uh, renamed the street in the bill fingers. You know, Kevin probably had 1600 other things to do, but he took the time to come up to the Bronx on a freezing cold morning to honor the co-creator of a character that he did very well by, but still owed nothing to me.
He just did it because he’s a good
[00:21:25] Alex: Yeah.
[00:21:25] Marc: he’s a fan too, to be honest, I don’t even know if he’s a fan, but I believe he did it just cause he’s a good person. So it was really nice of all of them to do this. They’re all busy people and they were extremely gracious and still are
[00:21:38] Alex: So in, in, in, in doing research about, Um, the creation of Batman, I noticed that that some of the stories that are in Batman and Belle and also build a boy wonder, they appear in, in Batman, in me, the, the Bobcat in auto-biography, um, things like the fact that Bob and bill would frequent Pope park. the story about bill reshaping, Bob’s costume, uh, to the one that we know today, um, It also has some stories that just defy belief, like there’s, there’s, um, a story where he’s like swinging from like a block and tackle, which is like, you know, a poli to like, you know, do flying kicks of like gang members when he’s a youth. right. there’s the, the sort of infamous 1934 Birdman drawing. how do you go about separating that fact from fiction and, and to what degree did Bob’s book inform who you interviewed and how you interviewed them and did.
[00:22:32] Marc: That’s a great question. So Bob came, built a career by being deceptive or selectively omitting important information. So that does make him an unreliable. Because of that. When he mentioned bill in the book, I took that very seriously because someone that, that is so much about look at me, you know, look what I did, look who I am, look how great I am.
Someone who’s that narcissistic when they break free of that and talk about someone else in a positive way. To me, that is, it gives it more weight because this is not something that he typically did that said I prefer to have multiple sources for any fact that I cite. And I, I couldn’t say for sure, but I think bill himself talked about the original costume in the Steranko book, 1970 history of comics.
I think don’t quote me on that. I it’s a little rusty, but I, and it may, if it’s not there, it may be somewhere else as well, because I did prefer not to rely solely on Bob, if I could avoid that.
if it was something positive and builds favor, I, I tend to, to, to give it some, you know, some weight because you know, this was out of character for, for Bob.
but then you look at the brand, you know, the whole scope of things. And there’s another interview with Bob, which I think was in the 1989 comics, matte comics interview magazine, the year that the Batman first Tim Burton film came out. When he, he admits being hazy on the details. He said, I think I created penguin or red there.
I’m not sure. Maybe, maybe bill. He was in print saying, I’m not really sure. Which is natural when you’re, you know, 75 years old. so it, it was, it was a little bit touch and go with some of this, but, you know, I did speak with a whole bunch of other people, some of whom we’ve mentioned already, and some of it’s already in print, so you just have to distill, you know, I sometimes would say how many times does, how many times in the research does someone say that that penguin is, was created by bill?
How many times does someone say it was Bob. More. And I just have to like any writer, you have to just make an educated guess based on what you, what, you know, what, even if it’s very little. So, the fact that Bob in his autobiography gives bill credit very, very, poignantly I might have, was, was for me, it was the, you know, it was the, the golden egg.
It was just, that was it. I just felt like that was so significant. Um, now he was likely, in fact, he was nudged to th that didn’t come from him alone. Tom Andre is the man who really wrote the book. Who’s now, uh, a colleague and a friend without Tom. There would be no bill in that book at all. So I always make a point to give crap Tom credit for, for nudging Bob.
This is, you know, before this book, you know, Bob was the monolith of Batman and here this guy saying, well, maybe. You want to mention bill and your own autobiography? Maybe that would be a good thing to do. That’s that takes chutzpah to be the guy to do that, telling someone else to tell his life story and give other people credit for stuff that he’s been taking credit for.
He did it and Bob agreed. So, yeah, and all that stuff informed what I was, what I was willing to believe in what I
was suspicious of.
[00:25:58] Alex: sure. One of the things that impresses me about, about the end product of your work, in, in the book, it’s got incredible focus and clarity, knowing the truth that Bob was, kind of a selfish guy. it’s hard for me. to not be like, angry about that. I think if I was in your shoes, it would be difficult for me to not just write like a takedown, right?
Like this, uh, just a story about how awful Bob was. and yet your book is so measured, right? Um, it puts bill, I think the rightful center of the story, you know, setting the record straight. Can you talk about your strategy and your approach and how you frame telling that story?
[00:26:37] Marc: well, my goal was to build a bill, not to tear down Bob, but there, I always get this mixed up. Is it mutually exclusive or not mutually exclusive to build up bill, you have to tear down Bob. You just don’t have to do it in a cruel way, but it’s kind of like if you see two people and uh, one of them wants to get your attention, but instead you focus on the other person, you know, you’re at a party and two people come up and they want to get time with you.
And one person starts talking and you look at the other person and start talking to that person. You’re showing what’s important by what’s your. So by focusing on Bill’s role and ignoring and not having Bob in the book, except when I absolutely needed to that was making a statement in and of itself. It wasn’t calculated.
It was just the way it was. But I, everything that I needed to say about bill had, you know, was what overrode, what Bob was doing at the time. So it was not, it was, um, it’s nice to hear people say it was measured. I’m glad that it seems that way, but it was really just a function of telling the story properly means that bill does get that kind of, real estate in the book.
you know, when you watch the film and you see Bob speak for himself, I mean, I don’t need to expand on that. I think a lot of people that don’t know anything about the story and see that instantly can feel what kind of person he was from that alone without knowing the whole history of bill finger’s role.
I mean, it’s just, he comes across a certain way, you know, it’s writers like to let characters you know, speak for themselves in a sense. and he was able in the film, he does that the blue book is different, but in the film, he just, you know, I, I didn’t have to say
much critical of him at
all because he just shows it on his, he wears it on his
[00:28:27] Alex: Yeah. I mean, you, you were telling that story
like going up to bat, you know, for bill with Bob. And I just am thinking back to that, interview that he did, where he’s asking him about giving up the rights and he’s talking about the pie it’s the piece of the pie.
And he really kind of
[00:28:41] Brian: kind of
[00:28:42] Alex: gives that interviewer a lot of attitude. And I just can’t imagine like,
he seemed So, so ready to
he was very pushy, I guess, I don’t know. Um,
[00:28:50] Marc: You know, and again, I’m. I’m focusing on one aspect of these per these people’s lives, which is their role in Batman. I’m not writing an in-depth biography, either one of them about their private life, their personal, their political views, their favorite sports team, their favorite smoothie.
I mean, that doesn’t come up. So when people have asked me, because there are people that actually interpret either the bookers, the movie, particularly as that, I bashed Bob, which I find to be honest, silly, cause I really didn’t. I mean, I, I, I, at least I don’t feel that I did. I was certainly trying to be measured in the film as well.
But the overall takeaway from the film is that Bob is being bashed because he’s being exposed as, as a fraud, in a sense. But when someone has in public, like after a lecture has said, you know, why, why were you so harsh against Bob? I’ll say, well, again, it’s funny that you ask that funny. I’m, I’m interested that you see it that way.
I see it completely differently, but I have to be clear that I’m not talking about Bob. I hope that Bob was a great son and a great dad and a great husband and a great friend cause privately he could have been those things, but professionally he did things that I feel. And most people that know the story feel are unethical.
And I cannot respect that. So when I criticize the man, I’m criticizing that part of him. I want to hope that there was good in him in other
ways. But again, that’s beyond the scope of my
[00:30:17] Alex: Hmm.
[00:30:18] Brian: Yeah, that, that makes a lot of sense here essentially saying that, uh, all of his personal details are completely irrelevant to the story you’re reporting. Right.
[00:30:27] Marc: Yeah. And I’ll give them the benefit of the
[00:30:30] Brian: Sure. Um, so then in the book you mentioned that bill would eat a chicken noodle soup during late night writing sessions. Um, they took foreign films.
Uh, he took in foreign film, excuse me, and played darts with Jerry Robinson. it seems like you were searching for the personality and humanity of bill. Um, were you able to find that and get a sense of, what it would be like to be around him?
[00:30:55] Marc: you’re asking, you’re both asking great questions. I, as I told you, I rarely do podcasts, but this you’re making it worthwhile because these are not the typical questions. Yeah. You need to know the guy’s personality to write a book about them. And
I needed that from mainly from Charles and Lynn, because they knew him the best and they were the living people who knew him the best.
So those little details I put in, partly because they they’re relatable to kids, which is my primary audience, but also because they humanize them and we needed that. So, you know, you don’t. That deep of a read on his personality. I would say not just for my book, but in general. I mean, you know, the movie linen Charles talk about them. but I think, you know, the main takeaway that a lot of people have about Bill’s personality is that why did he not do more on his own behalf? That’s a, that’s an, a kids especially latch onto that because at a certain age that they’re very much about right. And wrong and good and bad. And, it’s black and white, you know, from like fourth to sixth or seventh grade, it’s pretty black and white.
Like either you’re doing something good or you’re doing something bad. So they sometimes say, well, w w why, why did this happen? Why was Bob mean, why was, why did bill not speak up? And, you know, he probably did, unfortunately, that’s not been documented. Um, so I, there was one letter I found that’s on my blog where he does show up some backbone about the situation.
But you want to believe that the hero of the story tried to save himself before other people’s stuff. Um, but I can’t make it up it’s nonfiction. So that is a fatal flaw and every character needs to have weaknesses. And, and even if it’s nonfiction, you need to be open about that. Like, he’s not perfect.
I’m not saying he’s a hero. He’d never did everything. Right. but yeah, so I did try to humanize him with, with the details when I didn’t have so much on his personality. he was in, he was intelligent. Apparently he was fun to be at, be with at parties, but not the life of the party. He wasn’t the center of attention.
He was certainly very educated self-educated so he had things to talk about. He read a lot, uh, he was also athletic. I mean, he had, he was fairly well-rounded. He just wasn’t again, you know, the, I probably the most dynamic
[00:33:14] Brian: I guess in, in contrast to that, so in Batman it’d be Bob’s book. Um, he cites the pulp fiction character, the shadow, a movie called the bat whispers and Zoro as inspirations for Batman. Where are you able to get a sense of what some of Bill’s inspirations for Batman and his stories were?
[00:33:34] Marc: uh, those that you said Bob was saying them, but I mean, bill was the reader. So he would have probably, maybe Bob read the shadow. I don’t know, or I don’t know, or listened to the radius chose, but, of the two bill was, was more was, was definitely a reader. And I would imagine Bob was not much of a reader at all, maybe other comics, but I don’t think he was reading much beyond that.
And that’s, that’s a, that’s a speculation. and. I, you know, Zorro I’d have to go back and look in the notes. I don’t remember bill said much about Zorro but I know that he said that the, that the, um, the blank pupils or the lack of pupils and Batman’s costume, that was Bill’s, uh, idea, but taken from the Phantom, another pulp character that predates Batman comic strip character, I should say.
Bill was very open about his, his, his, um, his swipes, you know, where he got ideas from. And at the beginning he did swipe, but then he, he, you know, did a 180 and became, you know, uh, just a visionary for the field and what he brought to it. in terms of psychological depth and, range of types of characters and just longevity, I mean, 25 years.
So he, he started off, you know, in auspiciously you could say. And at least in the first story or two, but then really had it in them to do great. And that’s very common. Like, you know, you think about, I’m not so fresh on this, but I remember people were saying the first season of Seinfeld was pretty weak tea.
but in those days you’d let things roll. You’d let things percolate a bit. You wouldn’t just can’t kill it. If it doesn’t get certain numbers in, in one, in one season or one, you know, at the beginning and look what happened. So, and there’s something to that in the creative field. Like if people are given the chance to breathe creatively, once they get their foot in the door, they’re given that opportunity.
Maybe there’s greatness there that they just didn’t tap from day
one. so that’s what happened with bill.
[00:35:29] Alex: I got in touch with you a little while back, uh,
about, about the paperweight. D do you mind telling the story of the paperweight?
[00:35:36] Marc: No. Oh, of immune. What you,
what you shared?
[00:35:39] Alex: no, no. no. Um, how you, how you got it and, and it’s significant.
[00:35:43] Marc: sure. sure. so, Charles Sinclair was the first big find in my research and big for a couple reasons. One is that he knew bill and wrote with bill and wrote the only episode of the Batman TV show that bill was involved in. So that’s a significant detail. And also, I didn’t know this before I found him, but also significant because his mind was a steel trap.
He remembered things. Many people would not. And he also is consistent, which, which not everybody is. So, you know, when you’re doing research over a period of time, sometimes you ask someone a question and then if you bring it up again, a few months later, their memory is different because that’s human.
We’re all, we’re all,
we’re all victim to that. so he was not like that he was consistent straight through. So that for me was, was, you know, reassuring. so his name is Charles Sinclair. He was not famous. So if you Google Charles Sinclair, you will find 300 people, but you can narrow that down pretty quickly by the age range.
But I didn’t know exactly how old he was or even if he was still alive, but it was still, you know, I don’t remember how many, but you know, not a small number of people named Charles Sinclair that I would have to look for. My first thought was Hollywood. I mean, if you worked in film and TV business, but I don’t, I have to look back in my notes.
I don’t remember why I took a chance on a Brooklyn number first instead of Hollywood, but of all the numbers I found, I
called the Brooklyn one first and it was Charles it was the right one and he was still alive
and he was great. First
[00:37:28] Alex: Yeah,
[00:37:29] Brian: that’s incredible.
[00:37:30] Marc: And I lived in Connecticut at the time, so not a far train ride.
So I went to meet with him multiple times, of course. And, but the first time I went, he, we talked and we were trying to find this picture in the, oh, I had already gone to Bill’s, uh, Alma mater his high school. And I had photocopied class photos, which was, you know, this is a 19 30, 2 or 33 yearbook grainy to begin with.
And I’m photocopying it pre iPhone showing Charles and saying, do you happen to, can you see a Bill’s in these? I mean, it was, you know, it was futile, but then he said, I do have something of bills. Actually. I have two things. One was a little sculpture that bill had made of his first wife Porsche. And you can Google that and see it on my blog.
Bill’s granddaughter, Athena has that now as she should. And the other thing was he took out this Ziploc baggie off of his big shelf of books and other stuff. And he said it was this paperweight. And he said, this was bills. And he took it out of the bag and he said, and I’d like to give it to you. And I said, Charles, I would love to have that, but I cannot accept it.
He was your best friend. And Charles said, mark, I can already tell that you will take good care of it. So when he put it like that, of course I had to say yes. So I put it on my desk because I wrote a book about the guy whose desk it used to be on. And then some time later, not long after I was speaking on the phone with Lynn Bill’s second wife,
and I mentioned that Charles, who, who knew they knew each other, I mean, they’re contemporaries and they knew each other back in the sixties, they hadn’t stayed in touch or anything. But I said to Lynn, that Charles had given me, uh, one of, apparently one of Bill’s last surviving belongings, which was a paperweight and Lynn said, was it a scarab?
And I said, it’s so wise, how did you know that? And she said, well, it’s what I’m thinking of. I gave it to him. It was
a gift. Uh, I bought it at the American museum of natural history. I want to say it was circa 1970 could be off on that. But it aligns with the timeline that Alex sent me, you know, when these things were been production. and so it’s just funny how these things have a way of, you know, by rolling this tiny little piece of metal that when you, you wouldn’t pay second glance to it and it’s become such a big part of my story. in the book. It’s not mentioned at all in the
movie, but when I mentioned it in my talks, the kids freak out and
adults too. They love, it.
[00:40:00] Alex: it’s a cool
[00:40:01] Marc: They love, it’s such a little, it’s a cool story.
And I love the, I love the, the, the fact that when I, when I shoot, when I show the paperweight, I don’t even bring it with me in the schools. I just show a picture on the screen after I’ve shown it in the book. So the kids to see it in the book and think it’s just a detail in the book.
And then I showed that I have the real thing,
every audience for 12 years, every single one has gasped. And it’s a paperweight. So I tell teachers afterwards, it’s hilarious. If I told you in advance, I halfway through, I’m going to show a
paperweight and these kids are going to freak out
and would say, it’s not, he didn’t even know what a paperweight is.
They don’t even
know what paper is.
[00:40:35] Alex: Sure.
[00:40:37] Marc: it’s, it’s, just funny that this thing, something like that
can have this kind of a ripple.
[00:40:43] Brian: and Charles is right. You have been taking good care of it.
[00:40:47] Marc: Well, yeah, except yeah, I have for the most part, uh, you want another story about it when I wasn’t taking good care of it,
[00:40:54] Brian: sure,
[00:40:55] Marc: it’s short, it’s shorter. So I used to take it, um, to, to talks and show it in person which got a big reaction.
So I would take it in my carry on, of course, cause I would never, I barely check it back anyways, but I would never check something valuable.
And so I was going through the, the, the security in Reno, Nevada and he said, what’s this? And I said, Um, that’s bill finger’s paperweight.
And of course he said, who’s bill finger. And I said, well, there is a long story there, but the short version is co-creator of Batman. And that’s one of the only things he owned that still survives. And he said, well, I’m sorry, it’s also a weapon. You can’t take it on the plane. You could hurt someone with that.
And you know how it is, you’re not supposed to negotiate with TSA agents. And I said, I respect that. I’m a regular traveler that said it is the only one. Is there anything I can do? So that you’ll allow me to take it on this plane? And he said, if you, if you never take it with you on a plane again, not that he could check this, but I, and I said done, I don’t want to risk it anyway.
So I won’t take it with me again until that
day, to this day, I’ve not taken it on a
plane. If I ever move, I have to drive
because you know,
I can’t fly.
[00:42:12] Alex: um,
[00:42:13] Brian: um,
[00:42:14] Alex: you
know, the format of the show that we’ve done so far. it’s it hasn’t been an interview show. It’s it’s I I, um, shirk my responsibilities, and, and I read books and I Google things and I do research and I make notes. And then I read my notes to Brian and he acts interested. Uh, and, and, and I was just, um, you know, just pouring over your blog because there’s so much good stuff in there.
And we’re going chronologically, we’re starting at the beginning. And the plan is to hopefully, you know, we’ll work through all of the, the Batman history. and I found a post, about the scarab where you said that you didn’t know what it said. And I just said, I can figure that out. Uh, uh, which.
You know, I was maybe too bold of a prediction.
Cause like I was like, I’m trying to find like Egyptologists, like don’t ever Google, like, you know, Egyptologists for hire like in Google. You’re not going to find anything. I reached out to my sister who is, um, a PhD candidate at university of Indiana. I was like, do you know any of the Egyptologists, which is in hindsight also dumb.
and she, she, she was the one, actually she Googled something like, you know, um, you know, gold, scarab replica or something like that. And an image popped up on image search. That was a different scarab, but I took the file name and I, you know, went back and it was a different amen- uh, Amenhotep, scarab. And then all of a sudden I’m on the Wikipedia page and I’m reading it a translation of what I thought was different scarab,
and I was like, wait a minute. Those are the same symbols that are on, on, on, on Bill’s scarab. I promise I’m getting to a question here. Okay.
You know, and I did all of that online and you found a Theano, Bill’s granddaughter online as well through MySpace, I believe. Um, and, and, and reading through your blog, you know, it seems like so much of your work was writing letters, phone calls, physically going places.
Does, does the technology change your work? Do you, you know, as you do, non-fiction moving forward, does more of that happen online?
[00:44:07] Marc: Well, online is
cheap. You can do it from home.
[00:44:14] Alex: Sure.
[00:44:15] Marc: Not that I don’t like traveling. It’s like, there’s excitement there too. But, um, yeah, I start online with everything. I mean, we all do, and then, you know, but the best stories are offline. So sometimes you can find, you know, an arrow online that takes you offline, which is which, which was a lot of the stuff you saw in the film.
so yeah, but I mean, you know, your, your story is living proof that, you know, the Internet’s fantastic. It’s first of all, it doesn’t have nearly everything that, that you want, but also it could have things that you do want, and you have no way to know, like it blew my mind that there was that there was a Wikipedia entry about these paperweights, these replica paperweights.
I mean, it was in hiding in plain sight all these years and it doesn’t change anything for my story, but it’s just astounding that it was. And I, and in fairness, I never actually tried to find out what it said or looked into the paperweight. I just, my, for me, it stopped at, oh, it was bought at the natural history museum, like millions of other chotchkies in history.
So what, what’s the, what’s the point of even searching? And I
only put it on my blog
as a challenge to kids because I thought it would be a fun way to
get them to do some
research. And so that, which is, which is okay, they can still do it. They won’t find, I’m not going to look at all 300 bill finger posts.
They won’t see the one I did with you with their information. They’ll maybe they’ll find them. I’m still going to put it out to them, like try to find out what it means. And now that I know that it’s out there, maybe someone will find find it. Um, but yeah, the internet can be a great, uh, resource and, you know, I, I’ve not a lot of great little tricks, um, doing this in terms of internet searching.
so yeah, it was, and this, because of this, because of bill thinker, it was a great, um, it was a
great learning curve for me.
[00:45:56] Brian: So I like reverse question. So it’s like, you have a lot of insight. You’ve done a lot of interviews. You’ve done a lot of research. Is there a aspect of the bill finger story or a Batman or, or a question that people don’t ask you that you think is an interesting, like rabbit hole to dive down?
[00:46:17] Marc: that is a great question. well, there are a few things that, ha that don’t come up much that I think are interesting. One is that
this, this story is that they never added Bill’s name until they did because of Bob Kane’s contract. Yet that contract has never been. Revealed. So, and I realized that I, in my source material, I don’t know where that was, where that first came up, where Bob’s contract states. It has to be Bob’s name alone on Batman and certainly isn’t character.
Right. But I don’t know where it says that. And I, I, I could’ve missed it in my source material when I revisited it recently, but, I don’t think so. So the question then is, was that the kind of thing that just came up on a message board or at Comicon and passing and then became solidified as, as true, because it sounds true or is it actually, is there some textual evidence for that?
like, you know, Bill’s death, you know, the few people that had any inkling before I did research said he was buried in a pauper’s grave. And, you know, I realized that that that was mostly. assumption based on a sad life and the fact that no one had ever seen his grave on find a grave. So I don’t know where that originated, but it wasn’t true.
So maybe that Bob king contract thing is similar. during the making of the movie, it became clear to me that if that were the case, then that would probably come DC comics would have an incentive to, to show that and say, well, we’re not being dicks. Uh, the contract that we, you know, the legal document says, we cannot change it,
[00:47:59] Brian: Right.
[00:48:00] Marc: but they didn’t do that at least not publicly.
So I don’t know if that’s true, so there’s not
much more to talk about because I don’t know, but
that’s an interesting thing that sometimes people, um,
[00:48:10] Alex: yeah, I tried to, I couldn’t find a question in there, but that was something that struck me in the documentary was and blink you’ll miss it. That one of the lawyers was Athena’s half sister, which I thought was incredible. that, story of like, why didn’t they produce this document?
They were talking about all these meetings. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall to understand, like, what are these conversations? Like? What are these negotiations? But,
[00:48:31] Marc: And I even said it in the documentary. I said, they, they have no obligation to, to, to show the contents of their vault. Not realizing that well, in this kind of context, they, it benefits them to do that. If the document says Bob contractually gets, I mean, of course contracts. I mean, everything, most lawsuits in a lot of lawsuits are to challenge a contract.
So it’s all my contracts are, are, are, you know,
[00:48:56] Alex: right,
[00:48:57] Marc: acid proof class. Um, but still that’s an interesting point. Another point that I did blog about it. I dunno if you got to that blog post yet, is that if it came to a lawsuit, what is the legality of the or of the, of the Genesis of Batman?
So if bob was a freelancer and bill was even more removed than that. And bill creates something that Bob then sells to accompany, but under false
pretense, what does that say for the legality of who owns
it? If it wasn’t even Bob’s
I say I’m not a lawyer, so I had no idea, but I don’t know if that
would have been in
[00:49:38] Brian: Does it belong to everyone
[00:49:39] Marc: Yeah. I don’t know if that would have even been a factor if it did go to some kind of case, but I just thought that was worth noting that it wasn’t like Bob was a employee or was under a certain contract. He was afraid. So I don’t know if that would have, it seemed to be, it
could, could work in his favor, but I, I
[00:49:57] Alex: I hope, I,
hope. I hope we find more out.
[00:49:59] Marc: well you’re proof that, I mean, I get, I get emails. I mean, you know, and I, the P from people like you, that, I mean, the
paperwork. It’s really interesting. It’s not seismic of course, but it’s interesting, but you never know who’s going to, you know, like the, the ashes thing, um, that was never in print anywhere that his, that his body was cremated in that Fred spread his dad’s ashes on a beach that came just from individuals.
So some people would say, where’s your, where is it in writing? I’m like, well, sometimes you get something from a human being first. That’s how, that’s the start of the, of the, of the fact I got it from two different people who don’t know each other and we’re not in the same room and did not know what the other set is.
So there’s no like collusion here. There’s not like let’s make up this really poignant story about what happened. They have no incentive to do that. So there’s two, there’s two ways to analyze that either. Someone made it up a long time ago and these two people fell for it or more likely it’s true.
And these two people are remembering correctly. And then at one of my talks, a third person who came up, came up to me who knew Porsche Bill’s first wife and said, I heard that
[00:51:06] Alex: Wow.
[00:51:07] Marc: it’s, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s a, it’s a slam dunk by then.
[00:51:09] Alex: Right? Yeah.
[00:51:10] Brian: On our show, the very first episode, Alex and I talked about our very earliest memory of Batman. So I pose that question to you. What is your very earliest memory of, of Batman? For instance, mine, I was like four years old and my parents got me a it’s called a Quillow, it’s a quilt that can fold into a pillow.
and it’s got Batman on it and that’s my very earliest memory that I can think of, of Batman other than like getting into some of the, the, action figures and stuff like that. So what’s your earliest memory of Batman?
[00:51:45] Marc: well, first of all, I’ve never heard of quillows I’ll have to look that up too. There’s probably a Wikipedia entry for that as well.
[00:51:49] Brian: be. Yeah.
[00:51:50] Marc: well, I have a more vivid, early memory of Superman. I couldn’t be, I couldn’t be a hundred percent certain about Batman. I mean, I was a huge Superfriends fan. It was probably super friends.
I also had a Batman Migo
dog. You guys are younger than me, I’m guessing, but, uh,
[00:52:04] Alex: I know what amigo is.
[00:52:06] Brian: Yeah.
[00:52:06] Marc: So I had a bunch of them, including Batman and it might’ve been, it was probably super
friends first and
[00:52:14] Alex: do you have, do you have a favorite Batman story?
[00:52:18] Marc: yeah,
bills is my fear about me and
story, but if
talking fiction, you’re probably talking fiction,
[00:52:24] Alex: you
[00:52:25] Marc: I, you know, I disappoint people sometimes, cause I don’t have as encyclopedic. Um, the, my knowledge of Batman stories are not as encyclopedic as people would
expect, but my favorite, I think, you know, would, would
be your 180
7, uh, Frank Miller.
[00:52:44] Alex: That’s a favorite for me as well.
[00:52:45] Marc: favorite.
[00:52:46] Brian: Yeah, that’s really
[00:52:48] Alex: Do you have, uh, a recent book, a current book, a project you want to tell us about what are you working on?
[00:52:55] Marc: Well, nothing with superheroes, nothing
[00:53:01] Alex: I mean, I have a kid. Brian has a kid we’re interested in. We’re interested in, in your, in your books generally, you know, we have
[00:53:07] Marc: Uh, well thank you. Thank you. well I’m working on some other quirky nonfiction that will in my mind will be picture books as well. Um, I like these untold stories, but I like the stories that, there’s a high profile. So with Batman, it’s easy. Everyone knows Batman. Most people, even fans knew nothing about bill finger.
So I would say it’s the secret behind Batman. It’s a pretty quick and easy pitch. Um, so the two that I’m working on now, not quite the same type of thing, but, one is as a Holocaust story and not a famous one. So no one would have heard about it, but it’s just the hook is that it’s very, it’s, there’s, there’s, it’s not all grim.
There are people that survive in a dramatic way. And it’s also about paying tribute and which is a theme of my work as well with bill. And then another book I’m working on is, is a, um, a Vietnam war story. And I’m not a war buff. I just keep finding these stories, these tiny stories tucked in the folds of a huge traumatic event that I like.
I don’t want to not, I would not be good at writing this, you know, vast history of some complex event, like a war, but if it’s one small human or group of peoples. In that bigger story. Um, I love that kind of thing. So can’t say too much about it, but it’s a really, um,
in the end, it’s a very
uplifting story about
the end of the Vietnam war
[00:54:28] Alex: well, mark, it’s, it’s been an honor to speak with you. Um, the work you’ve done is incredibly important for our understanding of pop culture and of Batman. And, thank you so much for your.
[00:54:39] Marc: well, thank you for having me. It was my pleasure, and I’m glad that we made this connection, you know, not just on the
[00:54:47] Brian: Yeah, that’s awesome. if you’d like to show, you can leave us a five-star review on apple podcasts, recommend us in overcast, tell your friends
about the show and help us find an
audience. So we keep putting out episodes.
[00:54:59] Alex: You can find all of our episodes. And show notes at batlessons.com. You can send us comments, questions, or corrections to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can tweet at us at bat lessons until next time. I’m Alex Cash.
[00:55:10] Brian: And I’m Brian anders
[00:55:12] Alex: thanks for listening.