I enjoy so many types of books, marveling that a writer or comic artist or architect or journalist or cook or explorer thought long and studied hard and wrote and revised and gave countless hours to the creation of their book. After all, how do you count the hours a book’s author spends dreaming, observing, and conversing before the book heads into print production?
I like to imagine that you, the reader or teacher or librarian or parent, considers the life outside the book, too. The barely referenced fact. The characters on the periphery. The history that led up to the book. For many reasons, these things can’t be included in a book and yet … they are the blood coursing through a book’s veins. They give me the satisfaction of wondering, researching, reaching out to answer all the questions that rise up from a book like mosquitoes from disturbed grass.
Sometimes a book comes along that is written for a mission, something the author believes in so strongly that the mission hovers above the page providing texture, nuance, and a bridge to an unfamiliar culture.
When I read Bill the Boy Wonder: the secret creator of Batman, I was transported to the comics culture. These are people deeply immersed in the creators of the comics, the inventive brains, impeccably detailed art, the appreciation of creating other worlds we can inhabit verbally and visually. Marc Tyler Nobleman wrote and Ty Templeton illustrated this book that easily transports the reader to the comics culture, a story of how things were done in the 1930s and how a man’s character shaped what we know of history. It’s the true story of Milton Finger, who wished to be known as Bill, who conceived of and wrote the original Batman stories. For years, Bob Kane was listed as the sole creator on the comic books and his contract stipulated that it would always remain that way … and it has. It’s evident that Nobleman has a mission, a passion, a need to let it be known that Bill Finger was the man behind one of our most enduring fictional characters.
Beside the fact that this book is about Batman and its pages are drawn in a style so reminiscent of the superhero comics, this book is about copyright and attribution and acknowledgement, something we all try to teach in our classrooms. While the internet makes it so easy to pilfer someone else’s work and not give them credit, Bill the Boy Wonder delves into the effects that has on one man’s life. It’s easy to extrapolate how it might affect others. An extensive bibliography and author’s notes are just as interesting to read as the narrative. Nobleman describes his research, showing that he’s just as much a detective as Bruce Wayne.
Templeton’s illustrations provide a great deal of detail that will irresistibly pique the curiosity of anyone who wants to know more about the heyday of comics. And they’re practically a primer on how to draw effectively and communicate information in this style.
In his acknowledgements, Nobleman credits Charlesbridge, his publisher, with being “brave and bold all.” I don’t think of this publisher as making this type of creative book, but it’s certainly a worthwhile departure. High school and middle grade classrooms will value this book for its readability and its discussion-generating possibilities. It’s a good example of biography and a jumping-off point for talking about fiction versus nonfiction.