Six writers who contributed mightily to the history of comics have been selected to receive the 2020 Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing. The selection, made by a blue-ribbon committee chaired by writer-historian Mark Evanier, was announced July 15.
“In a year where Comic-Con cannot take place, it seemed wrong to honor, as we usually do, one posthumous writer and one who is still with us,” Evanier explained. “The one who is still with us would be denied the full honors of being brought to the convention and presented with the award onstage. Therefore, after much discussion, we decided to instead present no ‘alive’ award this year, and, assuming there is a convention in 2021, we will present two of those awards then. For 2020, we have selected six writers from the dozens who have been nominated to receive the posthumous award. Each of these six during their time in the industry produced a body of work that the judges deem worthy of more recognition and/or reward than it has received.”
The Bill Finger Award was created in 2005 at the suggestion of the late Jerry Robinson, who worked with Finger, knew him, and was disturbed that Bill had received so little credit and compensation for his work in comics, especially with regard to Batman and that character’s supporting cast and world. As Evanier explains, “Though Bill Finger now receives a lot more recognition than he received in his lifetime, there are still many who do not, and that’s why we keep giving out these awards.”
In addition to Evanier, the Finger Award selection committee consists of Charles Kochman (executive editor at Harry N. Abrams, book publisher), comic book writer Kurt Busiek, artist/historian Jim Amash, cartoonist Scott Shaw!, and writer/editor Marv Wolfman.
This year’s recipients are, in alphabetical order:
Virginia Hubbell Bloch (1914-2006)
The writing of Virginia Hubbell Bloch—almost wholly uncredited, some signed by others—could be found for years in the pages of Lev Gleason Publications, MLJ Comics, and Dell Comics in the forties and fifties. A poet and copywriter before she met her first husband, comic book artist Cari Hubbell, she began writing scripts, some drawn by her husband and some not, in 1941 for MLJ, which would later be known as the Archie company. That was where she met editor-writer Charles Biro, who encouraged her to write comics and who went on to become the most famous comic book writer of his day, often credited on covers. Artists who worked for him at Lev Gleason later told historians that many of the scripts credited to Biro were clearly ghostwritten by Virginia Hubbell, especially for the popular Boy Comics and the Lev Gleason version of Daredevil. On her own, she also wrote for Marvel, St. John, and Western Publishing, where she mainly wrote Little Lulu. She also wrote plays and children’s books, credited (when she was credited) as Virginia Bloch after she divorced Carl and remarried.
Nicola Cuti (1944-2020)
Nick Cuti began his writing (and drawing) career in 1968 with the self-published underground comic book Moonchild, much of which was done while he was serving in the Air Force. After his service, the popularity of Moonchild led to a series of jobs, including working for animator Ralph Bakshi, assisting artist Wally Wood, and serving as an assistant editor and writer at Charlton. Charlton led to Warren Publishing, and Warren led to DC. Along the way, he co-created E-Man and a spinoff comic, Michael Mauser, with artist Joe Staton. Cuti’s writing for those comics won great critical acclaim, especially in bringing a fresh approach and a healthy sense of humor to a superhero title like E-Man. He later worked extensively as an artist in animation, as a writer-producer of short independent films, and an author of both text and graphic novels, some of which revived his beloved Moonchild. Nick left us earlier this year, and we look forward to a representative of his family joining us at the 2021 ceremony for a more formal recognition of his work.
Leo Dorfman (1914-1974)
Leo Dorfman began his comic book writing career in 1950, following years of writing mystery and romance novels under a wide array of pseudonyms. Utterly uncredited for most of his first two decades in comics, he first worked for Fawcett Comics until they cut back in production and sent all their freelancers scurrying for other markets. It wasn’t until 1957 that he connected with Western Publishing, writing westerns based on TV shows such as Cheyenne and Gunsmoke at first, later segueing to The Twilight Zone, Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and other comics filled with ghost stories. In 1960, he began writing for Mort Weisinger at DC, contributing to the world of Superman with tales not only about the Man of Steel but also Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, Superboy, and Supergirl. Among his many contributions to the mythos was that In Superboy, he introduced the character of Pete Ross. He also penned “The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue!”, which ran in a 1963 issue and was considered one of the most memorable stories to ever grace the Superman comic book. At the same time, he wrote hundreds of stories for Western under the Dell and Gold Key imprints and hundreds more for DC. In 1971, he launched the comic Ghosts for DC, filling it with allegedly true tales of the unexplainable and quickly becoming the top seller of all the DC titles that offered such stories in anthology format.
Gaylord DuBois (1899-1993)
Gaylord DuBois spent over 30 years writing comic books and children’s books for Western Publishing, the comics appearing under the Dell and Gold Key imprints. His work for them included thousands of scripts for well-known properties including The Lone Ranger, Red Ryder, Bat Masterson, National Velvet, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, and Roy Rogers, as well as stories featuring his own co-creations, The Jungle Twins, Brothers of the Spear, and Turok, Son of Stone. Between 1947 and 1971, he wrote an estimated 95 percent of all the comics Western produced of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes. During his run on it, the Tarzan comic book was consistently one of the top-selling comics in America; in the sixties, so was a comic DuBois wrote every issue of except the first: Space Family Robinson. During this time, he also wrote novels, Big Little Books, and other text-based publications for Western, many of them featuring the same characters. In his last years, DuBois—a devout Christian who occasionally taught Sunday school or filled in for a pastor on vacation—authored several Christian-focused comic books and books of inspirational poetry.
Joe Gill (1919-2006)
Suggested by some as the most prolific comic book writer of all time, Joe Gill began his career in the mid-1940s, working for his brother Ray Gill at Funnies, Inc., a company that created content for many comic book publishers. Soon, Joe was working directly for most of those publishers, including a staff job at Timely (now Marvel), where he wrote The Human Torch, Captain America, and, from all reports, every kind of comic they published. Around 1948 when Timely laid off a number of staffers, Gill connected with Charlton Comics, where he wrote a minimum of one comic a week until the firm ceased publishing in 1986. Some who worked with him claimed it was more like one comic per day, which was what it took to make a decent living for a company that paid such low rates. Few Charlton titles during those years did not feature some Joe Gill scripts, but the best remembered books would include Konga, Gorgo, Billy the Kid, Cheyenne Kid, Ghostly Tales, The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves, The Phantom, Flash Gordon, Popeye, Tales of the Mysterious Traveler, and all the other western, war, romance, and ghostly titles. He was the co-creator of Captain Atom, Peacemaker, The Fightin’ Five, and Sarge Steel, among others. He also worked briefly for DC, Dell, and a few other publishers, but just his astounding output for Charlton earns him a Finger Award.
France Edward Herron (1917-1966)
France “Eddie” Herron was referred to as “the first comic book writer” by some of his contemporaries. The honor is arguable, but he was writing and editing as early as 1937, mainly for the Harry “A” Chesler studio, which produced comic book material for several publishers. He worked for Centaur Comics, then for Victor Fox’s outfit, which is where he met and began a long association with Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Among the other companies he worked for, often simultaneously, were Timely (where he worked with Joe and Jack on Captain America and co-created The Red Skull), Quality Comics, and Fawcett (where he wrote many early stories of the original Captain Marvel and co-created Captain Marvel Jr.). In 1945, he began a long association with DC Comics, where he often wrote Superman and Batman stories, and he was the main writer for long stints on Boy Commandos, Green Arrow, Challengers of the Unknown, and Tomahawk. His scripts appeared in all their war, western, romance, crime, and mystery titles, and he co-created the character, Cave Carson. Among the many newspaper strips he authored were Bat Masterson, Davy Crockett, Rip Tide, and Captain Midnight.
[Based on a press release.]