Tuesday, December 1, 2015

“FairyTale: A True Story” (1997 film)

In 1917, alleged fairies captured on film fanned a firestorm of public attention. Eighty years later, they made it to film again—as in movie.

FairyTale: A True Story was the first big-screen adaptation of two WWI-era British cousins named Frances and Elsie and the five fairy photographs they snapped over three years. There is so much lovely about it. In honor of Fairy Spell, my 2018 book about the same, I will be running original interviews with the stars and story architects of FairyTale.

In the meantime, a few notes on how the film compares with the actual story (some of this will come up again in the interviews):

  • It is unusual for a film to claim itself “a true story” rather than “based on a true story,” especially when the film takes considerable liberties (as this one does).
  • In the film, Elsie is 12, Frances 8; in real life, Elsie was 16 and Frances 9 when they took the first photo.
  • In the film, Frances’s mother Annie is dead; in the actual story, she accompanied Frances to Cottingley and also lived with the Wrights.
  • The first scene focuses on the always-captivating Harry Houdini. However, he had no role in the actual story (which is plenty captivating without him). Later in the film, Houdini is used to implant Elsie with the conviction that it’s okay to keep secrets.
  • Elsie did not have a brother, but the film gives her one—Joseph, who has died before the story starts. He is used to implant Elsie’s mother Polly with a “realistic” motive to believe in the unknown.
  • In the film, Frances sneaks her uncle’s camera to take the first photo; in real life, she and Elsie asked and were begrudgingly given permission to borrow it.
  • In the real story, Arthur Conan Doyle did not meet the girls.
  • In the real story, Polly did not meet Gardner till 1920, by which time the girls had taken two photos.
  • In the real story, it was not Gardner who accompanied the girls to the beck to try for more photos; it was a man named Geoffrey Hodson. In the film, Gardner is present when the girls take the third (of five) photos, which occurred in 1920.
  • The film incorporates the story of Peter Pan and its familiar element of encouraging children to believe in fairies.
  • In the film, a reporter who breaks into the Wright home discovers the fairy cutouts (and sees the ghost of Joseph). Neither happened in real life.
  • The film does not conclusively reveal how the girls staged photos.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Why I don’t require prep work for school visits

Children’s authors who speak in schools commonly feel that kids who have not read their books might not be vested in their presentation. Therefore, some request that teachers and librarians prep students by reading/assigning one or some of the authors books, conducting an author study, and/or running activities related to the subject(s) the author writes about.

I take a different view.

I like to go into a presentation with an audience who knows little or nothing about me.

Before I explain why t
hat is not akin to going into battle without armor, a bit of background…

An author visit is an expense, sometimes a sizable one. That makes it a gamble, too, because the school reps (usually the librarian or a PTA member) who bring in an author often haven’t heard that author’s presentation in advance. They invite based on the books, word of mouth about the presentations, or both.

This can be nerve-racking for the person arranging the visit—to host an author, s/he must ask whole grades and sometimes a whole school to interrupt their regularly scheduled programming. And not just for the assembly itself—also for the prep work. I look up to anyone willing to vouch for the quality of a guest speaker (author or otherwise) who has not been screened. If the presentation is a dud, that’s a lot of money and a lot of people’s time wasted.

Conversely, for some educators, doing no prep work is also nerve-racking. They worry the students will not pay attention to the author. They worry the author will be insulted.

But as the author, I’m the one being paid, so I feel I’m the one who should shoulder the responsibility of making this worth their while. I want to alleviate stress in my hosts. Just because I take author visits this seriously does not mean I don’t bring the fun! I feel I should be able to walk into any library, cafeteria, auditorium, or cafetorium and engage, entertain, and educate the audience for an hour even if they had no idea I was coming...or even if they never heard of me. Luckily, I love this challenge.

The books that are the focus of my current presentation (Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman) solve mysteries behind two of the most iconic fictional characters of all time. Therefore, the presentation benefits from the element of surprise: the less students know going into it, the more they will get out of it.

Establishing an in-person connection is not enough. It needs to be a meaningful in-person connection. I assure schools that it is this straightforward: “You set up the PowerPoint, I show up and fire up the kids (and staff).” My vow: I will leave students with the sense that writing and research are adventure. And I will leave some members of the staff in bittersweet tears. I am happy to report that it is working.

Of course I want kids to be exposed to my books. But I’ve found it to be a more effective use of class/library time to do that after I present.
Beforehand, it is tough to draw in the kids who are not interested in superheroes...especially because many educators fall into that category, too! 

But mine is not your typical, predictable presentation. The true stories I tell have a magical way of converting all kinds of people. I feel fortunate that I uncovered these stories and am able to share them in this way. 

Therefore, it’s easier on the educators not to try building excitement ahead of the presentation but rather to trust that they will be able to use the presentation as a springboard for further learning. Librarians regularly report that after my talks, the demand for my books skyrockets; the waiting list is often dozens of namessome of whom had previously said that they could not care less about superheroeswhich often results in the ordering of more copies. Yes, this might still happen even if a school does prep work, but my goal is to maximize a schools investment both financially and timewise.

I find it invaluable to let the presentation be the inspiration.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Tragic and magic

Bill Finger’s story has proven to be both tragic and magic in inspiring kids to write, research, and do good in the world.

Carry on.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Bill Finger Appreciation Group is appreciated right back

The Bill Finger Appreciation Group interviewed me on film in 2009...even before I had sold my Bill Finger manuscript.

In the wake of the big Bill Finger news, the BFAG posted this kind message:

Yet again, I must thank Derek Wolfford who in creating the BFAG has gone above and bat-yond in helping raise awareness in grand style of the legacy of Bill Finger. And as a designer, he has also helped me personallyhere (Bill-related) and here (not).

Always bears repeating: if youre a Batman fan, youre a Bill Finger fan. 

And if youre a Bill Finger fan, you, too, owe a debt of gratitude to the Bill Finger Appreciation Group. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

DC superhero team-ups (one-shots)

Growing up, two of my favorite comic book series were The Brave and the Bold (which teamed Batman with another hero or heroes) and DC Comics Presents (same deal with Superman). Love me a team-up. And especially love me an unconventional team-up.

Therefore, here is a gallery of team-ups outside of those series (or any other ongoing monthlies). Most are one-shot stories but a few are miniseries. Some are typical (Flash/Green Lantern) but many are not (Shazam!/Katana). None are intercompany crossovers (Superman/Spider-Man) or superhero/non-superhero crossovers (Superman/Bugs Bunny).

 Batman/Green Arrow: The Poison Tomorrow (1992)

 Lobo/Deadman: The Brave and the Bald (1995)

 Batman/Deadman: Death and Glory (1996)

 Batman/Demon (1996)

 Lobo/Demon: Helloween (1996)

 Worlds Finest Three: Superboy/Robin #1 (1996, 2-issue series)

 Detention Comics (Robin/Superboy/Warrior) (1996); 
despite what the cover implies, the three characters
star in solo stories within

 Robin Plus Impulse (1996)

 Flash Plus Nightwing (1996)

 Green Lantern Plus Ray (1996) 

Azrael Plus Question (1996)

 Superman Plus Legion of Super-Heroes (1997)

 Batman Plus Arsenal (1997)

 Wonder Woman Plus Jesse Quick (1997)

 Supergirl Plus Shazam! (Mary Marvel) (1997) 

Superboy Plus Shazam! (Captain Marvel, Jr.) (1997)

 Sovereign Seven Plus Legion of Super-Heroes (1997)

 Robin Plus Fang (Scare Tactics) (1997)

 Catwoman Plus Scream Queen (Scare Tactics) (1997)

 Impulse Plus Gross-Out (Scare Tactics) (1997) 

Superboy Plus Slither (Scare Tactics) (1997)

 Superman/Wonder Woman: Whom Gods Destroy #1 (1997, 4-issue series)

Green Lantern/Flash: Faster Friends #1 (1997, 2-issue series)

Batman/Wildcat #1 (1997, 3-issue series)

Catwoman/Wildcat #1 (1998, 4-issue series;
two Bill Finger creations you would not
expect to see together)
Double-Shot: Atom/Impulse (1998) 

Double-Shot: Robin/Argent (1998)

 Double-Shot: Supergirl/Prysm (1998) 

Double-Shot: Superboy/Risk (1998)

 JLA/Titans #1 (1998, 3-issue series)
 Flash/Green Lantern: The Brave and the Bold #1 (1999, 6-issue series)
Green Lantern/Superman: Legend of the Green Flame (2000)

 Titans/Legion of Super-Heroes: Universe Ablaze #1 (2000, 4-issue series)

 Batman/Lobo (2000)

 Hitman/Lobo: That Stupid Bastich! (2000)

Batman/Demon: A Tragedy (2000)
Circle of Fire: Green Lantern/Adam Strange (2000)

Circle of Fire: Green Lantern/Atom (2000) 

Circle of Fire: Green Lantern/Firestorm (2000)

Circle of Fire: Green Lantern/Power Girl (2000)
 Dead Again: Deadman/Flash (2001)

 Dead Again: Deadman/Robin (2001)

 Dead Again: Deadman/Superman (2001)

 Dead Again: Deadman/Green Lantern (2001) 

Dead Again: Deadman/Spectre (2001)

DC 1st: Superman/Flash (Jay Garrick) (2002) 

DC 1st: Superman/Lobo (2002)

DC 1st: Batgirl/Joker (2002)

 DC 1st: Green Lantern (Alan Scott)/Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) (2002)

 JLA/Spectre: Soul War #1 (2003, 2-issue series)

 Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder #1 (2006, 4-issue series)

Five of a Kind: Grace/Wonder Woman (2007) 

Five of a Kind: Metamorpho/Aquaman (2007)

Five of a Kind: Captain Boomerang/Nightwing (2007) 

Five of a Kind: Katana/Shazam! (2007)

Five of a Kind: Thunder/Martian Manhunter (2007)

 JLA/Hitman #1 (2007, 2-issue series)

  Batman/Lobo #1 (2007, 2-issue series)

Green Lantern/Plastic Man: Weapons of Mass Deception (2010)

 Starman/Congorilla (2011)

Black Canary/Zatanna: Bloodspell (2014)

I will also mention a few quirky team-ups that were ongoing series or parts of an ongoing series. I guess for me what it comes down to is this: if two character names (or, even better, logos) are on the cover, Im in.

 Super-Team Family #2 (Wildcat/Creeper; 1975);

Super-Team Family #13 (Aquaman/Captain Comet; 1977)

 Showcase '96 #1 (Steel/Guy Gardner: Warrior) 

Showcase '96 #3 (Lois Lane/Black Canary; Dr. Fate/Shade)

  Showcase '96 #5 (Green Arrow/Thorn)

  Showcase '96 #6 (Superboy/Demon)

  Showcase '96 #7 (Shazam! [Mary Marvel]/Gangbuster)

Adventures in the DC Universe #13 (Martian Manhunter/Impulse; 1998)

Adventures in the DC Universe #14 (Superboy/Flash; 1998)

 Adventures in the DC Universe #19 (Wonder Woman/Catwoman; 1998)

 Legends of the DC Universe #6 (Superman/Robin; 1998) 

Legends of the DC Universe #26 (Aquaman/Joker; 2000)

 JLA 80-Page Giant #2 (1999):

Plastic Man/Orion

 JLA Showcase 80-Page Giant #1 (2000):

Flash/Black Canary

 Justice League of America 80-Page Giant #1 (2009):

Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)/Red Arrow plus Cinnamon
Green Lantern (John Stewart)/Vixen plus Shining Knight
Black Canary/Zatanna plus Crimson Avenger
Green Arrow/Firestorm plus Bride of Frankenstein
Wonder Woman/Steel plus Black Pirate
Superman/Dr. Light plus Samurai (Super Friends!)

Justice League of America 80-Page Giant 2011 #1:

Batman/Plastic Man
Green Arrow/Ragman
Donna Troy/Bulleteer
Superman/Red Tornado
Oracle/Booster Gold
Green Lantern/Zatanna
Wonder Woman/Supergirl

 DC Universe Presents #13-16 (Black Lightning/Blue Devil; 2012)

Red Hood/Arsenal #1 (2015, ongoing series)

 Harley Quinn/Power Girl #1 (2015, 6-issue series)

Suicide Squad Most Wanted: Deadshot/Katana #1 (2016, 6-issue series, though it is an anthology so remains to be seen if the characters will actually share any stories)

Thanks to John Wells for filling in gaps.

Can you think of any I’m missing?
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