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CSBG Archive

Foggy Ruins of Time – The Secret Cigarette Origins of the Penguin!

This is the latest in a series giving you the cultural context behind certain comic book characters/behaviors. You know, the sort of then-topical references that have faded into the “foggy ruins of time.” To wit, twenty years from now, a college senior watching episodes of Seinfeld will likely miss a lot of the then-topical pop culture humor (like the very specific references in “The Understudy” to the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding scandal). Here is an archive of all the Foggy Ruins of Time installments so far.

Today we take a look at the odd inspiration for Batman’s foe, the Penguin.

There are few things harder to pinpoint in comic book history than the origins of the early Batman villains and supporting cast, and this is because the two men most involved in the creation of the characters were a guy who didn’t talk a lot about his work and who died forty years ago and a guy who talked a LOT about his work but also tended to make stuff up with some frequency. I am, of course, referring to writer Bill Finger and occasional artist Bob Kane, the co-creators of the Penguin. The two men had two different takes on how the Penguin was created, and honestly, whoever is right or wrong the visual inspiration for the character remains the same, so it doesn’t affect this piece.

Bill Finger claimed to be inspired by seeing rich people dressed fancily in tuxedo, which made him think that they looked like penguins. Bob Kane, meanwhile, claimed to have been inspired by the penguin used to advertise Kool cigarettes. Whichever came first, I see no reason not to believe that Kane, who first drew the Penguin in his debut in 1941’s Detective Comics #58 (this was before Kane stopped drawing Batman comics), was, in fact, inspired by the then-popular cigarette spokespenguin, “Willie”…



Here’s the Penguin’s debut…


Willie was phased out in the 1960s (coincidentally, right around the same time Kane was phased out of his involvement on the Batman comics).

If YOU have a suggestion for a future Foggy Ruins of Time, e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com


I do love the hindsight hilarity of old cigarette ads encouraging people to smoke when they have a cough.

probably not so funny for people with lung cancer or emphysema and stuff, though…

Looking back through the archive got me wondering about Pepper Pots… here’s one to investigate for this series… Is her name meant as a pun on the German WW2 weapon? (Tony is a weapons maker after all) A pun on the soup (Warhol did a Campbells Pepper Pot can in 1968)? Or just a pun on the common tabletop pepper pot (a pepper shaker)?

“and occasional artist Bob Kane”

A very nice way of phrasing it.

Let’s not forget Bob Kane did create / co-create The Batman!!

You mean this version of Batman?


In any case, the association of penguins with formal wear (“penguin suits”) was surely around far before that Willie character and was no doubt the reason for his creation in the first place. But since pretty much everything in early Batman was based on some earlier source (the debut story was cribbed from a Shadow novel, the Joker was based on Conrad Veidt, etc.), it’s certainly possible Kane was drawing on the ad mascot. Or maybe it was just another lie he made up to avoid giving Finger credit for creating something.

Somehow, that artwork doesn’t quite look like Bob Kane’s though… It’s almost too accomplished.

There was a Canadian WW2 comics superhero named Penguin. He used an adequate theme mask and a tuxedo.

Wow Christopher L Bennet you really have a thing against Bob Kane don’t you?

Could you provide me with a strip of what a Batman as created solely by Bill Finger would be? Yes you can A BLANK PIECE OF PAPER.

Don’t let your prejudices get in the way of fact.

LMC:”Let’s not forget Bob Kane did create / co-create The Batman!!”

I think that the weight of the evidence veers pretty heavily in the direction of “co-create” not “create.”

Wait, Bob Kane has supporters? I didn’t think there was anyone willing to publicly support him, other than family members.

Bill Williamson

May 10, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Holy shit LMC, I didn’t the Kane family even browsed CSBG!

Marlowe: The evidence veers pretty heavily in favour of ‘took credit for’ rather than ‘created’ or ‘co-created’.

Psh. Everyone knows penguins are DRINKERS, not smokers.

interesting for always thought bill got the idea for co creating the penquin was just going to a zoo and seeing a real one . instead bill got his idea for batmans second great rogue from seeing some rich people dressed in tux and bob from an old add for smokes of all things.

It may be coincidence but the Penguin looked very similar to a Dick Tracy called “Broadway” Bates who debuted in 1932:

Bill Williamson:”Marlowe: The evidence veers pretty heavily in favour of ‘took credit for’ rather than ‘created’ or ‘co-created’.”

I was feeling charitable.

Bill Williamson

May 10, 2014 at 7:29 pm

Marlowe: Fair enough

LMC: Incidentally, Batman ‘as created solely by Finger’ would pretty much be however many Finger written issues we got. All Bob Kane did was draw the strip, and it wasn’t even in a Ditko/Kirby kind of way. Kane basically traced over other people’s artwork and, let’s face it, even Bill Finger himself could have done that.

Let’s run it down:

Kane came up with: The name ‘Batman’, a preliminary costume that bore almost no resemblance to the final product.

Finger came up with: The cape, the cowl, the utility belt, the gloves, the costume’s colour scheme, Bruce Wayne, Commissioner Gordon, Robin, Alfred, The Joker, The Penguin, Catwoman, Two-Face… the list goes on.

Travis Pelkie

May 11, 2014 at 1:49 am

Augh, I think the blog is trying to tell me to stop posting! I had a whole thing about the Batman page and how awesome it is! Argh!

JC Lebourdais

May 11, 2014 at 3:27 am

@Eric Henry
It is quite well documented that early Batman rogues and feel borrow heavily from Dick Tracy.

I think Jerry Robinson would dispute the claim that Bill Finger came up with the Joker.

To bad there were no other Batman villains inspired by cigarette mascots. It would have been great to see Batman go up against a phallus-nosed camel-man. DC could have gone all out and given the villain an Egyptian connection and a birthmark on his leg that looks like a man with a giant erection.

Bill, you’re wrong about what a Bill Finger created Batman strip would look like.

There would be NO Batman whatsoever without Bob Kane.

That’s indisputable.

It’s true that Bob took Bill’s credit. He may not have been the nicest man in history, but that doesn’t mean you get to take away his co-credit from him.

@mrclam – you sorta proved my point by linking to a load of emotionally charged blogs rather than anything factual.

@LMC–Right, those articles had no facts in them at all; all those documented side-by-side swipes must be just part of my emotionally charged imagination. How dare those bloggers use well-reasoned analyses and photographic proof to lend credence to their fantasies!

Who cares about swipes?! Bob Kane drew the first Batman strip. He came up with the character’s name and concept.
Those blogs are interesting but as historical documents I’m afraid they don’t stand up.

Bill Finger was treated badly, but don’t re-write history trying to readdress the balance. No Bob Kane, no Batman.

Kdu2814, you beat me to the punch. Imagine the Penquin leading the Camel, the Smoking Cowboy, Ronald Reagan, and nine out of ten doctors who recommended Virginia Slims.

Travis Pelkie

May 12, 2014 at 1:52 am

But yeah, that Batman page is awesome. Lookit panel 2 — Robin’s about to have his ass beat by a “modern artist” because he’s totally a kid in the way he insults the dude, and Bruce has to hustle him out of there.

But that big panel — is the lady scared because Penguin has a gun or a GIANT MOTHERFUCKIN’ PENGUIN behind him?! Because the old dude is clearly befuddled by the giant penguin. “How did nature let this happen?” the old dude thinks, and doesn’t even TRY to protect his ladyfriend.

Hell, what’s the Penguin smoking that the smoke has that big a trail?

And, again, Penguin with a gun and a GIANT PENGUIN, and who’s launching himself into the scene alone? Robin. Batman is holding back and letting Robin either get totally rocked by a GIANT PENGUIN or totally beat ass on a Penguin and his GIANT PENGUIN, because either way, why be involved in that? There are already too many stories told about him and Robin around town.

Or…maybe Bruce is actually traumatized here, too much so to swing in and help his chum Robin. Because this scene is too reminiscent of the death of his parents. “Oh god, the nightmares never stop, and now my parents’ killer will be a GIANT PENGUIN!!! Augh! I cannot go on!”

Bill Williamson

May 12, 2014 at 3:48 am

Eric Henry: Fair enough, but what both Finger and Robinson probably wouldn’t dispute is that Kane had fuck all to do with it except claiming the money.

LMC: While it’s true that Finger probably wouldn’t have come up with Batman on his own, it’s like 95/5 to Finger. All Kane did was come up with the name (and any one could have come up with that name), draw a preliminary design that had no resemblance to the finished product whatsoever and draw the strip at a level of proficiency that any one could have (and did, see Dick Sprang, Sheldon Moldoff) matched.

This, plus the fact that Kane not only took credit for shit he didn’t do but actively denied others credit, tells me he doesn’t really deserve what credit he’s been given. He was a small man with a massive ego, that’s all.


Well I would dispute the 95/5 credit. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Bob Kane draw the first Batman (as we know him, not the “blond” version)?

I think (again, correct me if I’m wrong) Bob came up with the name and vigilante concept / dual identity on his own. BIll modified the costume but it was Bob who first drew it. Bill made him more of a scientist / detective. Bob was the first person to draw Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon, so whoever came up with the idea first, Bob still gets 50% of the credit for them. Bill and Bob came up with Robin together.

That looks about 50/50 to me. I’ll give you 60/40 in Bill’s favour if you like.

this seems like the proper time to drop in the slap fight between Kane & Steranko –


It would have been great to see Batman go up against a phallus-nosed camel-man. DC could have gone all out and given the villain an Egyptian connection and a birthmark on his leg that looks like a man with a giant erection.

You obviously have never seen King Tut without his pants on.

Though Virginia Slims DOES sound like a hot cowgirl rogue for Batman…..

Bill Williamson

May 13, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Brian F: That was absolutely hilarious, thanks for sharing.

Amazing that some troll is stepping in to defend freaking Bob Kane of all people. Gosh, if only we could still be reading about the “Bat-Man” that Bob Kane “created”. Nothing about the Batman character comes from Bob Kane except for the name Batman – even the identity of Bruce Wayne was a Bill Finger concept. Maybe he drew the first Batman story, but since the man made a career of lying about the work he did, who can say for sure.

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