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On 11/7/12, with fallen snow as fresh as the newly re-elected president, I spoke several times at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts.The stage in the auditorium where I gave my first presentation of the day was set up for a play:At a lovely reception with teachers-in-training, they distributed this bookmark:The poster designed for my final talk of the day is one of the coolest ever done in connection to my work:I enjoyed the first snowfall of the season except for the fact that the only shoes I brought were these:
Kids are sometimes quick to point out that Batman doesn’t fly. We know he took the train to Washington DC when writing for the Army Pictorial Center circa 1969-70; he was apparently thrilled to get Pentagon clearance. But he never took a plane anywhere.The farthest I’ve tracked him is an unlikely destination for an unlikely reason. At point, probably in the 1950s, Bill went to a seder…in Texas.
Neither did Bill Finger.
He lived in New York most of his life, and as far as we know, usually did not wander too far. We know he vacationed in Provincetown (Cape Cod), MA.
Yes, Bill the non-observant Jew celebrated Passover in the not-particularly-Jewish-y Lone Star State.
And on 4/8/13, I went to Texas for the first time since Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman came out to speak to the sixth graders at Gregory-Portland Intermediate School in the Corpus Christi suburb of Portland. The district’s theme for the year is superheroes. I was honored to be asked to be a part of it. (They did not know the Bill Finger connection before I came.)
It was the first time I’ve presented flanked by two bodyguards.Favorite question of the day: “If you didn’t write this book on Bill Finger, do you think anyone else would have?”
Thank you, GPI, for allowing me to symbolically follow in the footsteps of Bill Finger, and for hosting such a lovely visit.
humor pinned to board in teachers’ lounge
GPI sent me a thick stack of thank-you letters and they contained an unusually large number of irresistible quotables:
- “I can’t believe you went to other states just to get information.”
- “What did you think about us as audience?”
- “I am now part of the Bill [Finger] army! I will go around and spread the word.”
- “I liked how you had clarity, and great eye contact. Just keep on doing that and you won’t have anything to worry about.”
- “Could you consider writing a book about a superhero piglet? Maybe it could be a winning idea for a children’s series.”
- “It was a privilege to see where the first Superman comic was typed.”
- “from the third kid in the first row”
- “You kinda look like my Uncle, but with hair.”
- “I am sure someday you and I will be famous writers.”
- “You inspired me not just to do your best but also be unique in what I love to do.”
- “The part with the paperweight really teared me up. I almost cried!”
- “Maybe I will write a book about you and you can give me the paperweight?”
- “When my dad was little he loved to watch Superman movies or read comics. I told my dad all the information and he was amazed and I thank you for that.”
- “If they could, I bet Jerry, Joe, and Bill would say thank you.”
That last one especially moved me.
On 3/31/13, I had the honor of speaking about the mystery behind the majority creator of Batman at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.
They hosted the traveling Jews/superheroes exhibit, which includes a Bill Finger script that Jerry Robinson donated. The bio gets a few things wrong (starting with the city in which Bill was born), but the exhibit is fun.
Now word is really spreading:Another tweeter responded that he'd rather be Fingered than Kaned. Ain't that the truth (not something Kane was known for...).
On 11/6/12, AKA Election Day in America, I made my second appearance at the annual conference of New York City school librarians. The day’s duties comprised a presentation on Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman (in the city where it took place), a book signing, and author speed dating. I’ve long wanted to do that. In this case, it was six or seven tables of librarians, six or seven rotating authors, sixty minutes of madcap Q&A.
The conference was held in a high school and the book sales/signings were in the gym. I was thrilled to see that a gym teacher there not only gets blood pumping but also gets minds whirring: s/he has the students write. In gym class.
If that had been part of my high school gym class, maybe I would not have been so anxious to be there.
On 1/11/13, at 11:30 p.m., I was interviewed for the second time by a radio show out of New York called Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction. The topic was Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman; though Batman is not sci-fi, the show host, Dr. Howard Margolin, is good to me. This is the second time he has had me on...and my Boy Wonder illustrator, Ty Templeton, beat me to it by, oh, 21 years. Yes, he was first interviewed by Howard in 1987.
Thank you again, Howard.
You are a middle school teacher.
You signed up for the Kennesaw (GA) State University Children’s Literature Conference.
You are excited for the three author keynotes spread over the course of a day.
You are especially excited for the first keynote—Chris Crutcher.
But only after you get there do you learn you will miss Crutcher.
Because even Chris Crutcher gets sick sometimes.
* * *
I was honored to be asked to deliver a Kennesaw keynote myself. The first day of the conference (3/20/13) was aimed at elementary educators, the second at middle and secondary educators. Three keynoters were scheduled per day; mine was on the first day.
The night before, Bryan Gillis, the infinitely thoughtful conference organizer, emailed to ask if I would also be willing to fill in for a keynoter from the second day. While en route, Chris Crutcher (whom I’ve not met) started to feel unwell and was advised to turn back.
When you’re asked to pinch-hit for a legend in your industry, you do two things:
- Say you’re not worthy.
- Say yes.
The first day, I was the second of three keynotes. I focused on two fliers—Superman and Nobuo Fujita.
The second day, I was the last of the three keynotes. The topic that time was Batman.
Being the last keynote of the day is typically challenging; people are tired and eager to go.
Being the last keynote of the conference amplifies the challenge.
And being the last keynote of the conference when people were expecting an A-list author is a challenge wrapped up in a Come to Georgia moment.
But with Batman on my side, I took on that challenge with enthusiasm.
And the audience was most gracious. (It helped that Bryan gave me one of the most humbling intros I can recall receiving.)
Plus I got to see my photo inside a waterfall:Even before my first keynote, Chris was feeling better, which I was relieved to hear. I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet him but did get to meet three other authors and spend time getting to know a fourth I already knew.Thank you to Bryan and his wife Nancy for their tireless efforts, genuine interest, and trusting manner. Thank you to the conference attendees for not running me off the stage—and for expressing considerable support for my work, notably my Fujita project.
And with full respect, thank you to Chris Crutcher for the opportunity you didn’t plan nor want to give me. I’ll sub for you anytime…though I’d rather meet you.
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...
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!
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:
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.
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:
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 SolkowitzAfter 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.)
On 3/1-2/13, I was one of the authors bringing March in like a (literary) lion at the 10th annual March Into Reading, a community event sponsored by Salve Regina University in Newport, RI.I was so dedicated to the cause that midway through, I changed my name in honor of it:It was my first book event in a long time at which I had not met any of the other participating authors before. Of course it’s great to see existing friends but also great to make new ones. The gentleman I spoke with the most was David Biedrzycki, with whom I share an editor.
the authors, staff, and volunteers Each author spoke at schools three times on Friday, enjoyed a lovely home-cooked dinner at a private home that night, and signed books for the public on Saturday morning.
My favorite student question of the presentation day was from a sixth grader at Cluny School: “Do you hate Bob Kane or do you think there was anything good about him?” (She worded it better but her exact phrasing escapes me.)
I learned of a new old mystery that has been a centuries-long challenge to solve: the Newport Tower. Calling Joshua Prager, Brad Ricca, or Chris Barton…TRAVEL TIP: If you forget your phone charger, no need to buy one or scramble to borrow one from a local friend or stranger. Your hotel probably has a selection to choose from; think how often people forget them there.
Thank you to all who helped organize this event, especially to Kitty Rok, Stacey Lyon, and Laura Backman. Hope to March that way again.
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Some time last year, Erica Wagner, Publisher at Allen and Unwin, is reported as having said that there was a lot to be gained by having a text already illustrated [not that Allen & Unwin published picture books]. This is seemingly a change in direction.
Some writers/illustrators I know have recently signed contracts for ‘print ready’ books. This is not self-publishing, but submission to a royalty paying publisher of a book that is ‘ready to go’ in publishing terms.
What constitutes a ‘print ready’ book? It is a book that has been -
- professionally edited,
- proofread, has been
- designed to industry standards,
- professionally designed cover and,
- if illustrated, has all images appropriately set.
This is a great way to go for authors who are able to pay illustrators and book designers up front. Most authors are not able to do this. This then means all creators involved in a book project agreeing to royalty share and working between paid projects to collaborate on their book.
What have I gleaned about such ‘print ready’ deals? One company, smaller and reasonably new, offered a small advance and a good contract, by industry standards, with higher than regular royalty share for creators. An offer of help with promotion was also part of the deal. Another company, medium sized and established, offered no advance but better than average royalty shares for creators and help with promotion and marketing of the book.
How does this stack up against what is generally on offer now?
- Small and middle range publishers, in general, do not offer advances.
- Larger publishers offer advances depending on the book, depending on the author, and depending on the agent involved.
- Smaller and middle range publishers often [there are exceptions] expect the author to do it all in relation to promotion, even requiring the submission of a marketing plan.
- Larger publishers vary greatly as to how much promotion they will give a book.
- Generally, publishers will submit copies of their publishing output for major awards, such as the CBCA, and to a selection of leading review outlets.
What’s the down side for author, illustrator, book designer, [often the illustrator], to go down the ‘print ready’ publishing path?
- It IS a lot of extra work for all creators involved to ensure the book is ‘professional’ standard even before it is submitted.
- There is no money upfront.
Are the rewards worth the effort?
- If you love collaborative work, it is a big plus.
- Creators have much more project control to create the book they have collaboratively envisaged.
- A quality product, ‘print ready’, is a major bargaining point for creators/agents. ‘Print ready’ saves the publisher heaps!
The first company mentioned does small print runs, sells out their print runs, reprints and even sells out reprints and so it seems to be gradually snowballing.
It is too early to know in the second instance. [I’ll keep you posted!]
My feeling is that, if Erica Wagner was sensing a ‘trend’ and if these companies make a success of it, we will see more such deals. It’s something to think about!
To be launched end of June – “Toofs!” a collaboration between J.R. and Estelle A.Poulter an illustrators Monica Rondino and Andrea Pucci. More to come on what was a ‘print ready’ deal.
TOOFS by J.R.Poulter & Estelle A. Poulter, illustrated by Monica Rondino & Andrea Pucci
On 11/9/12, author Larry Tye and I got the old band back together for a joint Superman signing at the National Museum of American History in Washington DC.
No presentations, no panels, apparently no publicity—just us setting up outside the gift shop and taking advantage of the nonstop traffic flow the museum gets.
I was especially curious to see a parent buying a copy of Larry’s book (which is aimed at adults) for an elementary-aged son. It is not that the book is inappropriate for someone that age; I just don’t imagine his attention will be held by some of the more sophisticated aspects.
Hey, look at this! It’s an official New York City Police patch and membership card for the NYC Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association—courtesy of my cousin’s son, who made Sergeant yesterday! Congratulations, Chris and thank you!
You can find Chris in Finnegan and Fox: The Ten-Foot Cop.
On 2/16/13, I was honored to return to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA, to speak.
Last time was on Superman (no known photos exist of this appearance), this time Batman. I was luckier than Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, who were scheduled for the Saturday prior, which ended up being canceled due to Nemo madness.
But my attempt to get there was not without obstacles.
First, my 5:25 a.m. Super Shuttle pickup was 30 minutes late. I still got to the airport in time—not that it ended up mattering.
My first leg (Washington to Philadelphia), scheduled for a 7:30 departure, did not leave till a bit after 8:30. My second leg (Philadelphia to Hartford) was even more troubled. The plane we were supposed to fly had a mechanical issue so we were put on another. Once seated, we were informed that that plane also had a mechanical issue, so we deplaned and boarded yet another.
This meant we left almost two hours later than planned.
This meant I would be late for my 1 p.m. presentation. It was not a certainty that anyone would notice, but I regretfully let my host know anyway.
Luckily, the Carle, as they call it, is no stranger to travel complications, and they nimbly pushed back the event an hour.
Equally luckily, the people who showed up were flexible, too.
After, I signed books and the Carle guest book; though I could not make out all the signatures, I still knew I was in esteemed company.
Right here! Thanks to Nicole and all the creative folks at Fat Red Couch!
On 10/4/12, I was interviewed for a TV show called Meet the Author.
From where I sat, it was called Meet the Students. During the half-hour program, I answered questions from the host and from students in the Fairfax, VA, school system. The students were not in the studio, but their questions were posed live, by Skype.The set was decked out in honor of Jerry, Joe, and Bill. Here are select clips from my episode. I especially like the one about the scarab.The show is uplinked via satellite to Fairfax Network members, broadcast via Cox Cable to over 300,000 sites in Northern Virginia, and webcast to school districts/registrants across the country. It has been running for years and boasts a prestigious list of past participants.Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman illustrator Ty Templeton was also on TV, in Canada: For (free) Meet the Author registration, click that link. For more info or help, contact Faithe Smith at FFXNetwork@fcps.edu.
Prancing Dancing Lily is an app! Thanks to the creative people at Fat Red Couch, Inc.
Here’s a link to the scene where Lily, the cow who loves to dance, reaches New York City. She’s standing outside Radio City Music Hall where the Rockettes are holding auditions. Of course she’s surrounded by people—it is New York City, after all. Among the crowd are my niece, my sister, my wife and me! It’s not easy drawing crowds. There are so many characters to design. I like to use people I know whenever I can. Below is a photo of the 4 of us during a whirlwind weekend in New York. We’re aboard the Staten Island Ferry. I took this series of photos with an old-fashioned film camera and pieced them together to form a complete image. It was August, 2001.
This appeared in Publishers’ Weekly. It’s a spot illustration from Finnegan and Fox: The Ten-Foot Cop. Tony is one of the street vendors Finnegan sees on his beat every day. Long ago when I lived in New York City I worked with a designer named Judy. Her husband was in the food business. His name is Tony, too. He started his career with a lunch wagon and visited construction sites every day at lunchtime. He worked hard and was successful enough that he eventually owned a fleet of lunch wagons. Tony kept working hard and after a little while more he was able to trade them in for a restaurant. Isn’t that a great story?
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On 10/14/12, I had a double fortune:
- being one of two authors of books for young people at the West Virginia Book Festival
- meeting the other, Robert Sabuda, the staggeringly gifted creator of elaborate pop-up books
The organizers concocted an ingenious way to thank us: a note that combined a signature element of both of our oeuvres.