Bob Kane has been known as the creator of Batman and his name appeared in the comics for much of the 75 years of the Dark Knight’s history as his creator. But hidden in the shadows of was Bill Finger who co-created Batman and whose life was almost completely unknown. Thanks to the work of Marc Tyler Nobleman his story has been told.
In this edition of the Scholar’s Corner Bill Finger’s granddaughter, Athena Finger, spoke with Scoop contributor, collector, and Overstreet Advisor Art Cloos. She tells her story about what it was like growing up under the shadow of her grandfather and his famous creation.
Scoop: Athena it is a true pleasure to have you take time out of your schedule to sit down with us.
Athena Finger (AF): I love talking up The Bill and Batman story.
Scoop: Well, let’s start at the beginning. Where were you born?
AF: I was born in Portland Oregon in the spring of 1976.
Scoop: Now, as a child were you a comic book fan?
AF: Not really. I was too busy drawing and painting I would watch cartoons all the time.
Scoop: As a kid was Batman on your radar much?
AF: Only from watching cartoons, TV reruns of the show, and a few books my dad gave me. That was about it.
Scoop: Did your dad talk much about your grandfather and his work?
AF: He did talk about it but not often. It was painful for him. He would tell me about how he was consumed by his work and at times he would help by reading the scripts and giving feedback. They would go out to movies and to museums but for Bill it was all research but they did get to be together.
Scoop: Were they close?
AF: When he was young they were. Bill did not approve of his son Fred’s sexuality. This is really hard to answer since I haven't had my dad to ask since 1992.
Scoop: There was not a lot of tolerance for anyone different in those days.
AF: True. It’s so sad that Bill didn't get to see my dad get married and have me. I think that would had changed their relationship.
Scoop: What about your mom? Did she ever express any thoughts about your grandfather? Did she know him?
AF: She did not meet him. He had past before my parents had met.
Scoop: So, you grew up in Oregon?
AF: No, we moved to Massachusetts when I was 3. My mom, Bonnie, is from there. I grew up in a sailing town near Cape Cod.
Scoop: What kind of interests did you have growing up?
AF: I actually was big on doing cartooning. I would come up with characters and draw them or paint them. I just never put a story together I'm not a writer I was always about the visual “live life in color” I always say.
Scoop: You were an artist then?
AF: Yes, but I was also big, and still am, in photography. My mom's dad was a photographer but I would consider myself an artist still. I do still create art just not all the time. I can share some of my work if you would like?
Scoop: That would be great. We will show the world your talent in this interview. Tell us about your life in school.
AF: I went to a private school from kindergarten through the eighth grade. I was bullied terribly for most of my childhood. I’ve always been a bit more mature than my classmates so I was picked on, often to tears. This is why I would turn to art so much. Where we lived was isolated from everyone. I had cousins down the street but friends from school lived far from me. I had learning disabilities in school so I was a poor student. So school wasn't my favorite thing.
Scoop: What was school like for you?
AF: In the summer after fourth grade is when I found out my dad had HIV. But I also was in a production of Babes in Toyland. So there were a lot of ups and downs. In the eighth grade my mom was in a car accident and was bed ridden for months. My sister was very busy with her senior year in high school and getting ready for college and my stepdad worked a lot so I had to take care of her and the house. So there was this huge shift in my life at that time. Also that same school year, I got into a huge fight with my dad and had stopped talking to him. It was the stupidest thing I ever did.
Scoop: How was high school for you?
AF: As I said, my life totally changed at various times before I entered high school. Then when I got to high school it was all over the place for me. My family couldn't afford to send me to the art high school I wanted to go to. So I ended up at the local public school and freshman year was okay for me. I was adjusting but my biggest bully from grade school was also going to the same high school I was. So that was an issue. That Christmas we had a fire in our house and that is when the true roller coaster of my life started. It didn't get any easier after my dad passed away right before I turned 16. I went to four high schools in 5 years and jumped around a lot. I was very lost at that time. My mom tried her best but she was recovering from her head injury and both rehab and school. It was a low time for me.
Scoop: May I ask what the disability is?
AF: I had a hearing issue and still kind of have it but its way better now. I couldn't hear certain phonetic sounds so it affected everything for me, reading, writing, and spelling. It made school very hard. Spell check saved my life when it was fully available to everyone. I have a horrible memory for dates and history but I can remember math formulas all day long. Not words that's why I also have an issue learning foreign languages.
Scoop: I think a lot of people have trouble with foreign languages at times.
Scoop: May I ask what the argument with your dad was?
AF: I was graduating from the eighth grade and he wasn't coming to the ceremony. I was so angry. I knew he didn't have much time left and that he wasn't going to be there to see me graduate high school or college or get married. It really hurt and still does today.
Scoop: Was his absence due to his illness?
AF: He lived in New York City and I was in Massachusetts so money was the issue. I was mad at my mom too for not helping him with a way to come to my graduation. My dad didn't drive a car so that was a big obstacle.
Scoop: Now once you graduated high school what was next? Did you look into college or go to work right away?
AF: I had a stressed relationship with my family and was struggling to find my place. I took a couple of art classes after high school but I wasn't ready for college.
Scoop: What came next?
AF: I jumped from job to job and place to place. Like I said I was lost. I got engaged when I was 21. I was working at the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles otherwise known as the RMV and wanting to kill myself (not literally). I broke off with the guy and then just worked. Then I traveled a little and decided I needed to leave Boston. I was not finding anything I liked there and I couldn't take the cold anymore. The summer of 1999 I visited a friend in Miami and came to the final decision to move there. So in December 1999 I moved to Miami. There I met my ex-husband in February of 2000 and got married in March of 2001. Life was pretty normal we had a boy and bought a house. I lived my life for a while and then things fell apart and my husband and I divorced. I went back to college in 2004. My ex is 24 years older than me so I needed a career to support the family.
Scoop: Allie and I met in January of ’83 and got hitched in July ’84. So, it’s 32 years for us now.
AF: Congratulations. I haven’t found that just yet but I am working on it.
Scoop: You will I am sure.
AF: In the process of my marriage falling apart is when all the Batman stuff got me in the face basically. I had written it off many years before. I never really even watched a Batman anything other than the ’60s movie since my son loved it as a toddler. It actually bothered me to see the bat symbol everywhere everyday.
Scoop: You had never read any Batman or other comics before?
AF: I had read a few. I have a friend from one of the high schools I went to who was big into comics. He let me read Kingdom Come and I fell in love with it. He bought me a copy. Alex Ross is an amazing artist. He also gave me another comic where Alex Ross thanks Bill in the beginning. I want to meet that man. Always have. I have read more in recent years. My thing I turned to was horror mostly. I love, love, love horror movies. That's my dad’s influence all the way. He would take us to every horror flick.
Scoop: Now, when you went back to college did you have a specific goal in mind?
AF: Yes. I was going to be a teacher. I originally was going for elementary education so I could have the same schedule as my son but I had a professor that was my first math professor and she suggested I specialized in math. Math was always easy for me especially as an adult. My brain had matured more. So I went into math education in college and ended up getting a true math degree. Since I started in the educational school I know how people learn which gives me an advantage. I love my job. I had been a private math tutor all through college up to the present. I still teach at the college I got my AA at. I had set a goal to get a job at the community college I went to and not have to teach in the public schools and I got hired at the college before I even graduated. I am so proud of that.
Scoop: And well you should be.
AF: So many of my classmates did not walk into a job after college or they took a job they hated since it was all they could get. My mentor had a lot to do with that but also when I went to Broward Community College I was on the presidents list with a 4.0 average. Never in my life had I done that before. So I had some pull from that. I made friends with my professors whenever possible. When I got to Florida Atlantic University I had an eye opener. The math department there didn't really care about their students. That crushed me. But I made it through and even with going through a divorce I graduated with a job. It took me 6 years to get my degree but I got it.
Scoop: Tell us a bit about the classes you teach.
AF: I teach developmental math to adults. I don't have my masters so I can't teach college level classes. So, pre-algebra and algebra 1 basically. I love it. I have a lot of fun. My first semester teaching is when we first started a documentary with Don and he came and filmed me teaching! So that whole class knew about my family as I had to explain why I was being filmed.
Scoop: Is the masters in your future?
AF: No. I don't think so. I'm just not that passionate about math. I really struggled with my upper level math classes. I am considering opening my own tutoring company or some kind of math academy. I would love to eventually get a scholarship in Bill’s name somewhere specifically for comic writers.
Scoop: Now that would be amazing.
AF: Also I want to create a non-profit whose mission would be helping artists navigate the legal world. It would help them get contracts and copyrights for work and the such. There are still so many artists that get screwed because they are artists and not lawyers. And during all of my work with going to and teaching school and planning for the future I had my whole other life going on from 2007 to now. I really do have two lives.
Scoop: Because then things began to change in regard to the co-creator issue with your grandfather didn’t it?
AF: Yes. In 2008 that was the first time I saw the DC offices when they were in New York City and when I went to my first premiere. It was an amazing and scary and dark time for me.
Scoop: How did that start?
AF: Well, Marc Tyler Nobleman got in touch with me and opened a big wound for me. He pushed me to get in touch with DC and open a line a of communication. I was very reluctant since every other conversation was, “No, we can't do anything.” So, I called and started talking to them and that changed my view of the situation.
Scoop: You had spoken to them in the past?
AF: I had tried to get information from them in the past and was always told they couldn't do anything since the rights were “given” meaning actually “stolen” to someone else. Well this time was different. All I had to do was prove who I was. Easy breezy here is my birth certificate. Boom done. So, now I'm entering a world I had very little knowledge about.
Scoop: How did you cope?
AF: Marc sheltered me for a long while. He knew I wasn't ready for that. So I did what I could. I went to premieres and enjoyed a bit of Bill's world for Bill. So I did what I could as I should. I represent someone very “important.” His impotence is a personal interpretation. I've learned that and quickly. I always knew Batman was huge but never really was exposed to the whole other side of life saving this character has done. The inspiration, the creativity, the sense of community. It all kind of overwhelmed me at first but in a wonderful way. So they say timing is everything right?
AF: With the book out that Marc wrote and the 75th anniversary coming up. It was time for me to meet people and talk to the fans. So in 2013 I was contacted by Travis Langley to join him and his group to do some panels at some comic cons. This was a totally different experience for me.
Scoop: Oh, the first major comic con one goes to can be a very overwhelming experience that is for sure.
AF: This was totally different for me. There were so many people I didn't know and I had very little comic knowledge. I was very nervous. Luckily, I had been teaching for a few years and felt comfortable in front of a group.
Scoop: What was your first con?
AF: So my first con was Wizard Con St. Louis in April of 2014. It went very well. I was on a few panels and talked to people and I got to meet Adam West. He is such a wonderful man who was so kind to me. The next con after that was so intense, it was the San Diego Comic-Con. I was a featured guest and had a huge table next to some awesome guests. I met Jay Mews the first time there. I'm a huge Kevin Smith and Jay Mews fan. So that was awesome. I got to meet Weird Al and gave him a copy of Marc’s book. I am a big fan of Weird Al. Linda Blair hugged me. It was just so amazing, I met person after person, fan after fan. I also assisted giving the Bill Finger Award that year. And during all of this Travis and a bunch of us were working on the tribute film to Bill that we did a Kickstarter for.
Scoop: Now, let’s talk a bit about how the co-credit issue has been resolved.
AF: This all plays into that, remember timing is everything. So at the Anaheim Con someone from DC made a comment about being all good with the Finger family. So that opened the door. We sent out a response. That started the true negotiations which I'm not at liberty to discuss.
Scoop: Of course, but can you describe how the co-creator status stands today or is that not allowed?
AF: As of just over a year ago Bill Finger will receive credit. His name is now forever attached to his creation and the wording is Batman created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger. I, with my team, changed history. My sister is amazing for having the know how as she's a lawyer, to get him the credit. Since the credit issue has been resolved I’ve been in a really good place. For a long time before it was settled I referred to it as the family curse.
Scoop: So, it was your sister who did the legal work?
AF: She did part of it. She found me a pro-bono attorney to start the process. She did research into legal investment firms. She did all of the legal stuff. I do not have the legal knowledge but I am fortunate that I could turn to her to help resolve this.
Scoop: That is very cool. I did not know that Bill had more than one grandchild.
AF: My sister and I have different fathers. My dad was her stepfather.
Scoop: Now, I want to fill in a bit about your son. Is he a Batman and or comic book fan?
AF: No, Benjamin's not a comic book fan but he is a musician. He grew up knowing what his great-grandfather did though. He has had similar issues with classmates calling him a liar about it. But when the book came out that changed and the internet changed everything. Again timing. So he had a different side of it after then. And now forget about it. He's so humble like me though. He grew up with so many struggles in life not having much but at the same time having the world and despite that he is a balanced person. He's learned a lot through all of this as I have.
Scoop: What lessons did he learn?
AF: Many, he learned about his family history and how the world works. He gets how life can surprise you. But at the same time, he’s 14, a teenager now so we will see how grounded he remains.
Scoop: What are your hopes for the future now that Bill Finger is getting his just due?
AF: Well, I would like to build upon what has been shared with me. I have a book in the works with an author in New York City. I am interested in working on a screenplay. The Hulu Documentary just came out. Hopefully there will be some cons to go to in the future. I still teach and tutor so I have my regular life that keeps going. I travel a lot more now which is awesome. I love exploring. Talking to people and meeting fans is such an awesome experience for me. I’ve met so many wonderful people along the way. Locally, I have a friend whose cosplayer name is Tamerlane and whose real name is Ed Casas, who is a real life super-villain, no that is not a misstatement and he is such a good friend. He has helped me so much here with going to local cons and events to share Bill's story. He got us an interview in the Miami New Times newspaper and they wrote the longest article about us and Bill. The help I got from people is tremendous. The list can go on for days. With all of this support and people at DC wanting to give Bill credit it all came to a head in 2015 and now history has been righted. The curse has been lifted.
Scoop: Athena, thank you for sitting with me for this interview. I think there are a lot of comic book and Batman fans who are going to want to read this.
AF: My pleasure sharing.