In a break with tradition, two living authors have been given the 2014 Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing for 2014, but since the committee just couldn’t decide who are we to judge?
The winners for this year’s award—which recognizes underappreciated comics writers, one living and one deceased—have been awarded to the late Robert Kanigher, author of a ton of great war comics; and Bill Mantlo and Jack Mendelsohn, both still living.
“This year, the judges couldn’t decide between two living recipients so one said, ‘Why don’t we just give it to both of them?’ And we decided to give it to both of them,” Awards administrator Mark Evanier said in a statement. “They’re two men who deserve the honor and we figured, why make one of them wait until next year, especially in light of the fact that Bill Finger would have turned 100 this year? And as for our posthumous recipient, Robert Kanigher, that one’s long overdue.”
This year’s committee consisted of Evanier, 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. The major sponsor for the 2014 awards is DC Comics; supporting sponsors are Heritage Auctions and Maggie Thompson.
Robert Kanigher wrote his first comic books in 1942 and quickly became one of the most prolific talents in the field. His early work included Blue Beetle, Steel Sterling, and the original Captain Marvel. Then in 1945, he went to work for All-American Comics as an editor and writer and segued to DC Comics when it absorbed All-American. In 1946, he began a 35-year association with Wonder Woman, serving as the character’s editor for 22 of those years and writing hundreds of her adventures. As the main editor of DC’s war comics line, he created and/or wrote Sgt. Rock,The Haunted Tank, Captain Storm, Enemy Ace, Johnny Cloud, and dozens of other series. He wrote the first story of the 1956 Flash revival that is often cited as the beginning of the Silver Age of Comics, and his list of co-creations also includes The Metal Men, The Sea Devils, The Rose and the Thorn, and Black Canary. He worked on most of the major DC features up until his death in 1986.
Bill Mantlo went to work for Marvel Comics as a production assistant and colorist in 1974 but quickly found his niche as a writer, initially of fill-ins. Within a few years, he had written at least an issue or two of almost every major Marvel title and also took on many regular assignments. The regular books included long and popular runs on Micronauts and Rom: Spaceknight, and readers hailed his work on such titles as Ka-Zar the Savage, The Incredible Hulk, Moon Knight and his co-creation (with artist Ed Hannigan), Cloak and Dagger. Another co-creation was the Guardians of the Galaxy character Rocket Raccoon, soon to be part of the major motion picture. Mantlo used his income from comics to go to law school, and in 1987 he passed the bar and began working as a public defender. In 1992 while rollerblading, he was struck by a car and suffered what was described as “irreversible brain damage.” He currently resides in a nursing facility. His Finger Award will be shipped to his brother and caregiver Michael, who will present the plaque to Bill.
Jack Mendelsohn got his start in comics interning for Jerry Iger in 1942. His earliest identified credits as a writer are for DC’s More Fun Comics in 1946 and Animal Antics in 1947. Other early writing appeared in comics published by Ziff-Davis, Pine, and the Archie company, and then for EC Comics when he scripted their in-house imitation of Mad called Panic. Later credits include comics for Dell and Western Publishing of Nancy and Sluggo, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Miss Peach and Beetle Bailey. He wrote the Felix the Cat newspaper strip for a time and also wrote (and sometimes drew) Felix comic books. His own newspaper strip, Jacky’s Diary, was the subject of a Dell comic book he wrote and drew, and the strip has recently been collected between hardcovers by IDW Publishing. Mendelsohn also had an extensive career in animation (including work on the screenplay for the animated feature Yellow Submarine). His live-action writing credits include Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, The Carol Burnett Show and Three’s Company.
The Bill Finger Award is named after William Finger (1914-1974), whose essential and promethean work on Batman went mostly uncredited.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.