Month: January 2013

Meet the Illustrator: Ty Templeton

typhotoComic artist Ty Templeton has written and drawn for Superman, Batman, The Avengers, and other household names. Last year, he applied his comic expertise to children’s books, illustrating Bill the Boy Wonder, a picture-book biography of Bill Finger, co-creator of Batman. Last week, he chatted with Kidsbiographer about historical accuracy and the differences between drawing for comics and children’s books.

Kidsbiographer:  You are, in many respects, the ideal illustrator for a book about Batman’s creator: you’ve drawn for Batman, Superman, and other well-known comics. Can you describe how you applied your comics experience to this picture-book biography?

Ty Templeton: When I looked at Boys of Steel, the first book that Marc did about the creative team behind Superman, I noticed the illustrations were just that – illustrations – and I immediately asked the fine editors at Charlesbridge if I could add more of a “comic book feel” to the way the story was being told. Rather than a single illustration per page, I wanted to do two or three, and separate them out with borders that resembled panel borders. I wanted to nudge the book towards the medium that it was dealing with. It was a no-brainer to tell the story that way, and I was surprised that other folks hadn’t thought of it.

Kidsbiographer: In terms of creative process, how does illustrating a children’s book differ from drawing for comics?

Ty Templeton: I’m not the right person to ask that, as I’ve only done this one book now, and I approached it TRYING to make it more like a comic than a children’s book. So, I’m sure that there are a vast array of differences, but I insulated myself from discovering them by the process I used creating this project. If I had to guess what the main differences are it’s that comic art is meant to be read and moved past, and a children’s picture book includes art that IS meant to be lingered on and stared at. Children, especially, like staring at a drawing, sometimes to decipher how the magic trick of creating “life” in a drawing is done. I certainly remember doing that as a kid, but I grew up to be an illustrator, so perhaps my experience is unique.

Kidsbiographer: What sort of research did you do to illustrate Bill the Boy Wonder?

Ty Templeton: More than I expected to, actually. Marc was very insistent off the top that we get EVERY possible detail correct and he was very helpful in supplying me with photos of Bill’s apartment, his family, his writing desk, etc. On top of that, every character who appeared, every location, and every prop and building had to be correct for the era and correct for the location. There’s a page in the book that features a cross town bus in New York, circa 1950, and when I first drew the sketch, I apparently had drawn a bus that was correct for the era, but NOT correct for New York. (It might have been a bus that had a route in Jersey or something, and I got a note about it!) Marc and my editors were merciless about accuracy, and that makes for a better product in the end, as I can be a “close enough” type of guy if you let me off the leash. At one point, I had a typewriter in Bill’s office that I had correctly researched for the period, but got a note that the colour I’d used was not an available green for that make and model…it was too light a green for the time period and I adjusted it to be a more khaki green. That sort of detail is consistent through the book; even if people might not recognize it, it’s there.

Kidsbiographer: Throughout Bill the Boy Wonder, you employ the colorful, dramatic style reminiscent of Batman itself. Which part of Bill Finger’s life was the most difficult to illustrate in this way and why?

Ty Templeton: I’m not sure any one part was more difficult to illustrate than any other part. I didn’t have enough photos of either Bill or Portia, his wife, to get their likenesses perfect in each shot, so there’s the idea that I’m trying to make an accurate portrait of someone I’ve never met or seen, based on one or two grainy photos of them in profile…so I guess that was the most difficult aspect: getting the portraiture to feel accurate. Oh, and there’s a shot of a news stand, with a bunch of kids reading Batman comics when they first came out, and I had to get the magazines on the news stand to be the actual covers of magazines that were on sale that month. THAT image took a while to find all the right covers for Doc Savage and The Shadow on sale in the summer of 1939…but in the long run, that sort of thing is FUN for me, rather than difficult, so the wording of the question is hard to respond to. There were elements that were time consuming, but none of it was difficult….

Kidsbiographer: What’s the most gratifying feedback you’ve received about Bill the Boy Wonder?

Ty Templeton: At the end of the year 2012, USA Today did a list of their ten favourite graphic novels of the year, and Bill the Boy Wonder was on the list. That blew me away because it wasn’t a graphic novel in my mind, but a kid’s book leaning on graphic novels for a visual style. We must have leaned so hard on the style that we made a few people think we WERE a graphic novel…or perhaps we bent the perception of what a graphic novel could be for younger readers and won the day that way. I love all the positive attention we received as a children’s book, but more than USA Today reviewed us as a graphic novel, and STILL gave us high marks. That was gratifying, as I didn’t expect this book to get much attention from the mainstream comic book press…they tend to dismiss work created for younger readers as below their radar. We managed to get on their radar.

Kidsbiographer: Would you like to discuss any current or future projects?

Ty Templeton: Right now, I’m writing and drawing Ultimate Spiderman Adventures for Marvel comics, and having a blast. I also have a one-room-schoolhouse for comic creators called “TY TEMPLETON’S COMIC BOOK BOOTCAMP” in Toronto, at which I teach courses in layout, inking, scripting, pencilling, anatomy and anything else that involves comic creation, two or three nights a week. ALSO: Each year my school puts out an annual collection of work by the students called “HOLMES INCORPORATED”, any of which can be downloaded for free by your readers at this website.

We’ve been running for three and a half years and the three annuals are all available for free digital downloads. The fourth will be on the way this summer.

I’m still recording keyboards and backing vocals with Glenn Reid’s band if anyone cares, but that’s not really comic related stuff. It’s still fun to check out though… I do all of Glenn’s graphic design work, so the album covers, and book jackets are my work AS WELL AS the singing and playing on the tracks themselves…

And I’m currently working on a new project with….no, wait. Too early to discuss that one…I’ll let you know.

Meet the Biographer: Marc Tyler Nobleman

photoMarc Tyler Nobleman has written over seventy books, including Boys of Steel, a picture-book biography of Superman’s co-creators. Last year, he published Bill the Boy Wonder, which explores the life of Milton, AKA Bill, Finger, Batman‘s unsung co-creator. This week, in one of this site’s most intriguing interviews, Nobleman chatted with Kidsbiographer about wordplay, his early love affair with DC Comics, and his adult quest to unearth the truth behind Finger’s role in Batman.

Kidsbiographer: In Bill the Boy Wonder, you not only relate the life story of a comic writer; you employ many of the prose strategies of the genre, including clever, punchy word play. How did Finger’s style influence your creative process during this project?

MTN: The puns based on “bat,” “Bill,” and “Finger” were indeed inspired by Finger’s own propensity for wordplay, but beyond that, the style is my own. (Normally I avoid puns! And one of the comments my Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman editor made when she was turning down Bill the Boy Wonder was that she was not fond of the puns.)

Kidsbiographer: Can you tell me more about your experiences with comics in general and Batman in particular? What role did comics play in your development as a writer?

MTN: Comics were my first love. They kept me reading voraciously as a kid, though I did make time for books, too. I read DC Comics almost exclusively, and Superman and Batman are the two anchors of that universe. I actually liked Superman better, but everyone likes Batman!

I don’t know how much comic book writing has influenced my writing, but comics books nonetheless remain a defining aspect of my development. I fondly remember the thrill of hunting through comic shops, flea markets, and assorted other places for a back issue I really wanted. These days, of course, it’s as quick and simple as an eBay search, which takes fun out of it. But I’ve replaced the quest for comics with the quest for information about comics, so it’s apropos!

Kidsbiographer: As your author’s note details, you approached countless individuals and organizations to write Bill Finger’s biography. During your research, you became involved in Finger’s continuing saga: the quest for his descendants to receive financial compensation for his role in Batman. Can you describe how it felt to find yourself become part of this extraordinary story?

MTN: It was unexpected, humbling, and transformative. I don’t think I realized that I would be a character in the story until after I wrote the manuscript. In other words, in terms of my book, I am not in the story proper but I am (obviously!) in the author’s note. And I believe the story will continue until every effort is made to get Finger official credit.

Kidsbiographer: Like most children’s biographies, Bill the Boy Wonder holds a moral for young readers. However, unlike most of its counterparts, this PB bio is not a simple lesson about working hard or staying true to one’s goals and ideals: it’s a cautionary tale about advocating for oneself and receiving credit for one’s work. In today’s culture of collaboration, with more and more educators encouraging group work in schools, this lesson seems especially timely. How have young and adult readers responded to this aspect of the biography?

MTN: When I tell young people the tragic aspects of the life of Bill Finger, the room goes quiet—truly quiet. Yes, I do it with a touch of drama, but it’s appropriate for the material. It is palpable that the students (and adults, for that matter) are moved by the story of a man who gave the culture so much yet did not fight for his name to be attached. To be clear, that is a character flaw. But the character flaw doesn’t detract from Bill’s creative impact, and THAT is what gets people fired up. Just because Bill was not aggressive professionally does not mean he does not deserve redemption. One teacher posted online that her students—the girls in particular, interestingly—were affected by the injustice in Bill’s career. It’s that kind of reaction that helps inspire people to do good in the world.

Kidsbiographer: What’s the most gratifying feedback you’ve received from young readers about Bill the Boy Wonder?

MTN: It’s always hard to pick THE most of anything. Of the many kind comments I’ve gotten from young readers, one that stands out in my memory is from a site where teachers reviewed the book, so I have not met the student in question:

“I asked one of my 5th grade students who loves superheroes and graphic novels, and is an aspiring illustrator, to read it. Almost 40 minutes later he came to me and replied, ‘Milton Finger deserves credit.’ His four words were powerful and insightful. Reading this book changed him a little bit.”

I love how the student referred to Bill by his given name, Milton, which is mentioned only on the first page. Like Batman himself, “Bill Finger” is a fabrication (Milton changed his name to Bill), so it almost feels like the student is saying that the “real” person behind “Bill Finger” should come forward to claim ownership of his creative legacy. I am probably reading into this, but just as the book about a creator apparently moved this young person, his reaction moved the book’s creator.

Kidsbiographer: Any current or future projects you’d care to discuss?

MTN: One of my next passion projects is also a true story and also involves a flying man, but not one with a cape. He was a Japanese pilot during WWII, and he did something unprecedented. Some would call him a hero, but what I love about the story is the debate that would likely inspire. Here are seven mock covers for the not-yet-a-book, plus a tease about the story itself.

Secret Identities

BillBoyWonder_300Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman

By Marc Tyler Nobleman
Illustrated by Ty Templeton
(Charlesbridge, 2012, Watertown, MA, $17.95)

Although comic artists may create fantastic characters and spin tales about daring feats and narrow escapes, their lives are usually quiet ones spent writing and drawing in studios. But writer Bill Finger’s life was as intriguing as the world he built. Finger helped create Batman, the most popular superhero of all time, and most of his antagonists. For over twenty-five years, he wrote the comic. However, he never received official credit for his work. Co-creator and original artist Bob Kane seized the byline – and almost all of the profits – for himself. Although editors and fellow artists recognized Finger’s genius, he remained obscure and poorly paid, while Kane soared to wealthy and immortality.

In Bill the Boy Wonder, Marc Tyler Nobleman and Ty Templeton tell Bill Finger’s story.  Readers learn about he generated ideas for Batman and other comics and how various characters evolved.  The picture-book biography, which is sophisticated enough to appeal to middle-graders, employs the energetic prose of comic books. Nobleman uses alliteration, metaphor, slang, and other word play to capture the genre’s playfulness and the drama of Finger’s life. For example, Batman artists “loved when Bill was at Bat.” The book’s illustrations reflect the drama and vivid colors of comic book art. This is no surprise: Ty Templeton has drawn for Batman, Superman, and other well-known comics.

Bill the Boy Wonder is an exciting introduction to Bill Finger, comics, and the creative process. It is also a cautionary tale about the possibilities and perils of collaboration. In addition, the fascinating author’s note describes Nobleman’s research for the book and his own hand in the continuing story of Bill Finger and Batman.

Dorothy A. Dahm

The Art of Persistence

AgainstAllOdds_hresGood Sports: Against All Odds
By Glenn Stout
(Sandpiper: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012, Boston, $5.99)

More than talent separates the best athletes from the merely good: perseverance has won many a championship. In Good Sports: Against All Odds, Glenn Stout offers five short biographies of players and teams who defied personal adversity and humiliating mistakes by playing their best. In some cases, their gutsy determination won them a trophy or a championship title; in others, a respectable defeat. But all the athletes Stout profiles – from 1920s college quarterback Roy Riegels to contemporary third baseman David Freese – faced embarrassment or even a career on the bench. They seized whatever chances fell their way and played as well and hard as they could – and for that, they could hold their heads high.

Glenn Stout’s collective middle-grade biography should inspire persistence and teamwork on and off the field. In addition to celebrating the athletes’ commitment to their teammates, Stout explores various facets of the sports themselves, educating middle-grade readers about the games they may already play and love. Like the best sports journalists, Stout captures the excitement of the game, especially the tension when only a few minutes remain in the contest and the outcome is still undecided. He seamlessly weaves his subjects’ individual struggles with his accounts of the key games in their careers. Readers of all ages will find themselves routing for his underdog heroes.

-Dorothy A. Dahm