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365 Reasons to Love Comics #140

The last couple weeks have been fun, but you know me– I love a good theme week. I’ve enjoyed looking at some great creators these past few days, though, so let’s continue doing that, with a theme I warned you about– Bob Week! Up first? The most famous Bob in comics. Even the average man on a street probably knows who this fellow is.

5/20/07

140. Bob Kane

Bob Kane 1.jpg

Bob Kane (birth name: Robert Kahn) was credited, for years, as the creator of Batman. Now, we’re all comic geeks here (mostly, at least), so we know that isn’t entirely true. This column isn’t a place for negative comments, though, and we’re going to talk about the positive things. So: hey! Bob Kane was the co-creator of Batman. Awesome.

Bob had been pals with Will Eisner and worked in his studio for a time, drawing funny animal comics and some humor strips for a few different mags. Then this Superman guy took off, and everybody was looking for the next big hero. As the story goes, Bob was given a weekend to come up with something. He combined his love of Zorro, da Vinci, and numerous bat-related movies and came up with… the Bat-Man! He took it to his pal Bill Finger, and they refined it into the character that appeared in Detective Comics #27.

Bob Kane 2.jpg

The rest was what you’d call history.

Bob’s art style wasn’t anything overly special, but he had a flair for the dramatic, and portrayed Batman as a terrific dark avenger of the night. Well, until Robin showed up, anyway. But my God, those original books were exceptionally gorgeous.

As the public face of Batman for decades, Bob Kane was a helluva guy. And he had the second-best signature in comics.

Sadly, he passed away in 1998. His name will carry on forever, though– or as long as Batman exists.

35 Comments

I have to give you props Bill. It takes a special kind of cahones to not only straight-facedly include Bob Kane, but use a copy of Batman and Me, which may yet win the race against William Shatner’s Star Trek memories for the title of most self-serving piece of writing ever.

I would actually include him as a reason to love comics not because he helped create a cultural phenomenon simply as a result of someone telling him “Bird Man” sucked as an idea, but because he’s one of those shameless self-promoting people who defined success in the comics industry for the first 60 or so years of its existence: he got paid wadges and wadges of cash for putting his name on work that wasn’t his, and extensively traded on his fame for creating said character he got paid wadges and wadges of cash for putting his name on work that wasn’t his. Hell, if Jerry Siegel could have just kept his mouth shut in 1944 and not sued National Publications, he would have ridden the same gravy train.

But what Bob Kane did was turned the doing-no-work-and-leaving-it-to-the-ghosts-while-trading-on my-fame thing into a massive mythology around himself. I love the bit in Batman and Me where he talks about getting to know the pre-Marilyn Monroe Norma Jean.

Rohan Williams

May 20, 2007 at 8:23 pm

I disagree that the average man on the street would know who Bob Kane is, but that was a cool piece.

I can’t stand when people hate on Bob Kane just because he was smart enough not to get screwed over by his publisher. If suffering through what Siegel and Shuster went through is more noble to you, that’s great, but I respect a guy who didn’t let DC push him around much.

Yeah, he didn’t get screwed by DC, he just screwed everyone who ever worked for him. Ask Bill Finger if Bob Kane is a reason to love comics.

Bob Kane is the Michael Turner of the Golden Age?

(I’d say Pat Lee, but I think that would only be funnier to Transformers fans)

I can’t think of any other Bobs in comics…though I did come across this from DC’s August solicitations:

THE ALL-NEW ATOM #14
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Mike Norton & Trevor Scott
Cover by Ladrönn
Part 3 of “The Hunt for Ray Palmer,” tying into COUNTDOWN! Ryan Choi, Donna Troy, Jason Todd and Bob the Monitor continue to search the Nanoverse for Ray Palmer — and the travelers find themselves in what some might call…Heaven.

“Bob the Monitor.” Really. Forget Jason Tood, forget Heaven, forget Ray Palmer…there’s a Monitor…and his name is Bob.

PS: Sorry for going askew from the topic, as well as not knowing how to put up a quote box.

So who has the best signature in comics then, Bill?

I dunno, Bill, if your intent is only to feature guys you can say positive things about (and that is an admirable goal), then why pick a guy that you could barely get three positive paragraphs out of?

I mean, I suppose co-creating Batman is something we could “love” about the guy, and I personally sorta admire

A. His shrewd approach to business, especially in regards to making the best deal requiring the least amount of work on his part

and

B. His charisma, as he really did seem like a guy who could put a positive spin out of anything.

But there has to be a lot better Bobs than Kane, no? And if you want to feature the Batman creation, then Bill Finger would be a great choice.

So yeah, even more so than mediocre-to-bad 90s comics, I don’t see Kane as a reason to love comics.

Rohan Williams

May 21, 2007 at 12:19 am

Wow, Brian. Will Eisner used ghost artists, should we shit on him and ignore his contribution to the industry too?

Bob Kane, at the very least, co-created Batman. That much is undeniable. He co-created BATMAN. After that, he got the best possible deal he could from the industry as it was structured at the time.

How many people were getting credited for their work back then at DC? Not just on the Batman books, but on any books? Look through the other Showcases and Chronicle books from Kane’s time– do you see Otto Binder or Gardner Fox getting the credit they deserve, in the comics themselves? The same thing happened in newspaper strips, as far as I’m aware.

What happened to Bill Finger sucks, but he co-created a work-for-hire character for a work-for-hire company under very different arrangements to today’s industry. That’s no reason to disrespect Kane.

And besides, I agree with Greg- those early Detective issues, that we can be fairly sure Kane did draw, are absolutely brilliant, and convey an atmosphere that most of the artists who came after haven’t been able to match.

Walt Simonson has the best signature in comics, no question.

No one begrudges Bob Kane using ghost artists, as it was very common at the time.

What people (like me) begrudge is Kane specifically denying credit to the dude who only helped make Kane rich and famous, Bill Finger, who Kane denied ANY credit for helping to create Batman until fifteen years after Finger was dead, and even then, all Kane would say was that Finger was a “contributing force.”

Same with Kane’s denials of Jerry Robinson’s contributions, as well.

We’re not even talking tacitly denying them credit, like never mentioning them. That, while bad, I guess I could understand. No, no, Kane actually went out of his way to specifically deny them credit, even going so far as to write a best-selling memoir filled with Kane’s distorted (distorted is a polite term for it) take on history.

These were not problems of “the system.” These were problems of Bob Kane’s ego.

Now, perhaps if Kane had some other notable contribution to the comic book industry to balance this stuff out, then sure, but you read Bill’s piece. Outside of co-creating Batman and drawing a few good issues in the beginning of the run (and even THOSE early stories have since been shown to be, at least partially, lifted from drawings by other artists), there really IS nothing else about Bob Kane to make one “love comics”

So is co-creating Batman enough? As I mentioned earlier, I guess so. It IS a pretty big deal. But heck, if you want to feature a Batman co-creator, Bill Finger hasn’t been featured yet, and he has a lot more things going for him to fill a column with.

Oh, and as for “shitting on the guy,” I have no need for ripping on the guy. The dude has been dead for almost a decade. It’s not like I’m writing entries just to rip on the fellow.

But to specifically single him out for PRAISE?

Seems iffy.

Rohan Williams

May 21, 2007 at 2:41 am

Saying that there’s nothing else about Bob Kane to make one love comics “outside of co-creating Batman” is like saying that there’s nothing else about Bill Russel to make one love basketball outside of his eleven championships. I mean, co-creating Batman is kind of a big deal, I figure.

Sure, Kane’s version of events may not be entirely accurate– or even close to it– but the guy was an old raconteur when he wrote that memoir. Grandstanding and fudging historical truth is pretty much a prerequisite for those guys, or for any showbiz memoir, ever. Picking the truth from the self-serving fiction is half the fun of those things, and any faults with the accuracy of that book are Tom Andrae’s as much as they are Bob Kane’s, if not moreso.

I still think that any real inequity in the treatment of Kane and Finger- and there is a large inequity, obviously- is the result of the industry’s business practices at the time, and Kane’s successful attempts to guard himself against that.

Rohan Williams

May 21, 2007 at 2:43 am

Ok, but surely seeking to deny him praise, and to deny his importance to the industry, counts as ripping on the guy, doesn’t it?

What people (like me) begrudge is Kane specifically denying credit to the dude who only helped make Kane rich and famous, Bill Finger, who Kane denied ANY credit for helping to create Batman until fifteen years after Finger was dead, and even then, all Kane would say was that Finger was a “contributing force.”

So now where going to shut out huge contributions to comic book history because they might not have been nice guys in there personal lives?

How about Walt Disney? He screwed over Carl Barks and put his name under his creations and ratted out his communist employees. Still, is anyone going to deny his influence to comics and animation?

Ok, but surely seeking to deny him praise, and to deny his importance to the industry, counts as ripping on the guy, doesn’t it?

I see it as more of a neutral thing.

I won’t rip on the guy if folks don’t praise him.

Sorta like a stalemate. ;)

The Mad Monkey

May 21, 2007 at 3:23 am

Remember folks…
“Lyin'” Stan Lee created the entire Marvel universe. All Jack Kirby did was draw, according to him.

The above is soaking wet with sarcasm for those who may not have understood that.

Sure, Bob Kane and Stan Lee could have an all-out ego show-off that only John Byrne could referee. But, all in all…Bob did what he had to do to survive. It completely sucks that he rolled over on Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson. But, if I were him, I wouldn’t let NPP take me out like they did with Siegel and Shuster. In the same respect, I would do my best to include everyone involved.

But, hey, those were different times. I mean, people really wouldn’t do anything like that these days. Oh, excuse me for a minute, I have to take a phone call from Steven Spielberg about the next project he plans to steal from a deceased director and call it his own.

I’ve said it before, but I really wonder why someone doesn’t make a quality Batvillain out of the guy.

Metatext is all the rage, isn’t it?

Actually, I don’t know that I’ve heard Stan Lee say that. Certainly, he’s a generous self-promoter, but he’s always been fairly tongue-in-cheek about it (he’s said his comics were better than Shakespeare, too, but I don’t think he was serious about that), and whenever he treats the subject seriously, he’s referred to it as a collaborative effort all the way.

And frankly (controversial statement coming up), I don’t know why everyone claims Siegel and Shuster got shafted. They got paid a fair price for an untested idea in an untested market, got lucrative positions writing and drawing Superman titles for many years, and then decided to turn around and sue DC with no actual grounds, solely because they decided they wanted more money than what they’d gotten. Fundamentally, Siegel and Shuster saw that DC had made a bigger success than anyone had expected (and while Siegel and Shuster deserve a share of that credit, so do hundreds of other people in marketing, merchandising, and other media altogether), and they got greedy.

Even after biting the hand that fed them, DC continued to pay Siegel and Shuster a generous pension for the rest of their lives solely for the PR value of being able to say they’d been nice to the creators of Superman, and it still hasn’t stopped people from calling DC cold and heartless. In no other business could you pay a guy $200,000 a year for doing nothing after he filed a nuisance lawsuit against you (and not just once, either)…and still be called the bad guy.

And frankly (controversial statement coming up), I don’t know why everyone claims Siegel and Shuster got shafted. They got paid a fair price for an untested idea in an untested market, got lucrative positions writing and drawing Superman titles for many years, and then decided to turn around and sue DC with no actual grounds, solely because they decided they wanted more money than what they’d gotten.

Actually, I agree (somewhat) with you. Hence why I said at the top “Hell, if Jerry Siegel could have just kept his mouth shut in 1944 and not sued National Publications, he would have ridden the same gravy train [as Kane]”.

Even after biting the hand that fed them, DC continued to pay Siegel and Shuster a generous pension for the rest of their lives solely for the PR value of being able to say they’d been nice to the creators of Superman, and it still hasn’t stopped people from calling DC cold and heartless. In no other business could you pay a guy $200,000 a year for doing nothing after he filed a nuisance lawsuit against you (and not just once, either)…and still be called the bad guy.

…and here I disagree. You’re (surprisingly for you) ignorant of the facts here John. You make it sound as though DC ‘continued’ to pay them a generous pension after everything happened. They didn’t until 1977, almost 40 years later, by which point Shuster was a few steps away from being homeless and destitute, and Siegel was working in menial jobs. And Warners only paid them not because of a nuisance lawsuit (the last one of which was in the mid-sixties), but because of a concerted campaign to have their plight acknowledged organized by fellow cartoonists.

And they certainly didn’t get “$200,000 a year”. Maybe that’s what it eventually accumulated to through the efforts of Jenette Kahn and Paul Levitz, but Warner’s initial pension was something like 30K for Siegel and Shuster each.

I do agree that if Siegel and Shuster had not rocked the boat they could have had a comfortable living running a studio that produced Superman strips much like Kane did. But Kane was also smarter than Siegel was and managed to legally maneouver his contract with National (by virtue of not having a birth certificate– he claimed he was a minor when he signed it which invalidated it) to get a much bigger cut on Batman. Certainly better than selling the greatest pop culture character of the 40’s for $130.

The Kirbydotter

May 21, 2007 at 7:19 am

As for nice signature, Simonson’s is a very stylish one indeed! I also like the nice calligraphy of Wrightson’s.
Adam Hughes’s simple “AH!” is also cool.

” “Hell, if Jerry Siegel could have just kept his mouth shut in 1944 and not sued National Publications, he would have ridden the same gravy train [as Kane]”. ”

From what I remember, it was the fact that Siegel and Shuster were then-currently suing National which directly led to Kane getting the deal he got. He went and claimed that he was a minor when he signed his original deal, and that he too would sue as Shuster and Siegel did, and National didn’t want to have the negative publicity of “stealing” both of their important characters, so they quickly settled with Kane, who was acting behind the backs of Shuster & Siegel (in fact, they went to him to get his support on the lawsuit, and he acted on that knowledge to corner National into the agreement), and his ‘Batman’ co-creators.

People here seem to be claiming that his actions were legal; but he committed fraud at some point in the process, and it’s generally considered more likely that his latter claim — that he was underage when he signed the original document — was the fraudulent one.

So, yeah, good show, Bob. Very “shrewd”.

Walt Simonson has the best signature in comics, no question.

Give the man a prize.

And yes, I realized a Bob Kane entry would be controversial. And yes, I wish the Nick Cardy entry got more replies than this one. I couldn’t, however, let the year go by without mentioning all of Batman’s creators. So don’t worry, Bill Finger will most certainly get his due. Same with Jerry Siegel– I certainly wasn’t planning to just profile Joe Shuster.

Yeah Walt Simonson came to mind instantly.

And also I don’t think you need to justify including Bob Kane.

It says my last comment is awaiting moderation. Is this a new policy in general or just for this post?

Rohan,

Bob’s transgressions against Bill weren’t just when he was an old man with faulty memory. He slandered Bill Finger as a liar way back in 1965, denying that he had any hand in creating Batman. And he kept doing so until years after Finger died, destitute.

This link has a description of Finger’s actual contribution, along with Bob Kane’s original conception of Batman before Finger tweaked it.

This link has Bob Kane’s letter to a fanzine in 1965 slamming Finger and lying about his contributions, even though at this point Bob was rich and Finger was struggling.

It may have triggered the spam filter… You’ll have to ask Cronin, though.

Ok, but surely seeking to deny him praise, and to deny his importance to the industry, counts as ripping on the guy, doesn’t it?

Nope. “Not praising” is not akin to “insulting”.

Ahhh, that must be it. I put hyperlinks in my message.

Graeme Burk said:

“…and here I disagree. You’re (surprisingly for you) ignorant of the facts here John. You make it sound as though DC ‘continued’ to pay them a generous pension after everything happened. They didn’t until 1977, almost 40 years later, by which point Shuster was a few steps away from being homeless and destitute, and Siegel was working in menial jobs. And Warners only paid them not because of a nuisance lawsuit (the last one of which was in the mid-sixties), but because of a concerted campaign to have their plight acknowledged organized by fellow cartoonists.

And they certainly didn’t get “$200,000 a year”. Maybe that’s what it eventually accumulated to through the efforts of Jenette Kahn and Paul Levitz, but Warner’s initial pension was something like 30K for Siegel and Shuster each.”

Not so much ignorant of the facts as slipshod in my detailing, which is still pretty embarrassing. You are entirely correct in pointing out that DC had to be essentially shamed into paying them a pension, and further shamed into increasing the amount of that pension (which did, by the end of their lives, wind up being in the neighborhood of $200K.) But I don’t think that invalidates my point–DC paid them that money despite having absolutely no legal obligation to do so, and they did it because they didn’t want to be seen as cold, heartless businessmen. And in that respect, I think you could probably argue that they wasted their money. :)

It says my last comment is awaiting moderation. Is this a new policy in general or just for this post?

Just for you, T.

Seriously, yeah, the hyperlinks often get caught in the spam filter. Strangely, though, not ALL the time. Weird.

Just to pick up on the signature thing…

I studiously avoided learning anything about the scratchey – imagey artists of the 90’s so I don’t know much about Adam Hughes, but is he the guy who did all those Wonder Woman covers of 10-5 years ago? They are ace! They really jumped off the shelves at me visually.

I still didn’t buy the comic though.

Bob Kane… God, Bob Kane. He is, at best, a middling talent that happened to have one great idea that he was able to live off for the rest of his life. In essence, Kane came up with the idea of basing a masked adventurer on a bat (not exatly an original idea, if one knows the history of the pulps). Most of the actual detail of the character, the things that made Batman BATMAN, were developed by Bill Finger. In addition, most of the artwork that Kane turned in over the course of decades was the work of a neverending series of ghost artists (Jerry Robinson being the most notable, but certainly not the only one).

In Gerard Jones’ Men of Tomorrow, he makes it pretty clear that Kane was not respected by his peers. His actual, tangible, contribution to Batman was so minimal as to be something of an industry joke. In the letter from ’65 that T. links to above, Kane offers as proof that he solely created Batman the fact that only his name was on the strip. Well, of course his name would be the only one on the strip, if he was turning in the work without crediting his collaborators!

Bob Kane built his reputation for years on the backs of others. His career is a metephor for the dozens of creators who watched as others profited from their hard work. He is a reason to HATE comics.

He is a reason to HATE comics.

You see, as I said in comment #1, I think he is precisely because of the achievement of basically doing very little on the backs of a lot of other people’s work. I’m not denying he’s scummy as all get out, but at the end of the day I think Bob Kane was the epitome of the 1940s system of lots of comics being farmed out of a particular person’s studio (like Eisner, Iger, Siegel and Shuster, etc) — so succesful he continued to do it long after the practice in the industry switched to the comic companies directly employing freelancers and not a studio. And he was able to trade on that fame. He was, vile as his professional practices were*, possibly the most famous comic book ‘professional’ the industry had until Stan Lee.

Mark Evanier used to have a great article about Bob Kane on his website (it’s now in his book Wertham Was Right) about meeting Kane in the late ’60s and getting him to ‘fess up to the fact he used assistants to do the actual work. Kane said to Evanier, “I wanted to be Bud Fisher”, the artist behind Mutt and Jeff, another cartoonist who achieved great fame and pretty much had his assistants do the actual labour while Fisher got rich and famous for a strip he increasingly had little to do with. The point being. essentially, all Bob Kane did was something newspaper cartoonists have done since the beginning of time.

In the 30s to the 60s, that’s understandable. But the medium and its fans has been more generous in acknowledging other artists subsequently, and Kane became more, not less entrenched in the fiction he created Batman, Robin and the Joker solely. And I think that’s where Bob Kane lost credibility. But I’d still have him as a reason to love comics.

* For a great example, see Mark Evanier recounting a famous story via the late Arnold Drake about Bob Kane painting clowns:
http://www.newsfromme.com/archives/2007_03_15.html#013103

I think there’s a big difference between setting up a shop that mass produces work, and even having an assistant finish off work that is essentially yours, to blatantly lying about the contributions of others to work you claim as yours. Eisner credited his assistants his entire life, so I don’t think the parallel fits.

Still, I may have been a little rash in declaring him a reason to hate comics; I was flush with outrage after reading his ’65 letter (really, it’s just outrageous). But love is also too strong.

Finally, here’s a quote by Sheldon Moldoff, from Kane’s Wikipedia page: “I worked for Bob Kane as a ghost from ‘ 53 to ‘ 67. DC didn’t know that I was involved; that was the handshake agreement I had with Bob: ‘You do the work don’t say anything, Shelly, and you’ve got steady work’. No, he didn’t pay great, but it was steady work, it was security. I knew that we had to do a minimum of 350 to 260 pages a year. Also, I was doing other work at the same time for [editors] Jack Schiff and Murray Boltinoff at DC. They didn’t know I was working on Batman for Bob. … So I was busy. Between the two, I never had a dull year, which is the compensation I got for being Bob’s ghost, for keeping myself anonymous”.

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