BOB KANE .COM



BOB KANE. COM


HE GAVE HOPE
IN EVEN THE
DARKEST KNIGHT


Bob Kane was born on October 24, 1915 in New York. He is credited as the creator of the superhero Batman, published by DC Comics. Comics historian Ron Goulart, in his Comic Book Encyclopedia, referred to Batman as the "creation of artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger." However, even later on in his career, Kane acknowledged only that his studio writer Finger was "a contributing force" regarding the character.

A high school friend of fellow cartoonist Will Eisner, the future creator of The Spirit, Kane entered the comics world in 1936, freelancing original material to editor Jerry Iger's comic book Wow, What A Magazine!. The following year, Kane began working at Iger's subsequent studio, Eisner & Iger, one of the first comic book "packagers" that produced comics on demand for publishers entering the new medium during its late 1930s and early 1940s Golden Age.

Included in his work was the funny animal feature "Peter Pupp", published in the U.K. comic magazine Wags, and later reprinted in Fiction House's Jumbo Comics; and for two of the companies that would later merge to form DC Comics, the humor features "Ginger Snap" in More Fun Comics, "Oscar the Gumshoe" for Detective Comics, and "Professor Doolittle" for Adventure Comics. For that last title he went on to do his first adventure strip, "Rusty and his Pals."

In 1938, DC's success in Action Comics with the seminal superhero Superman became a sales gold strike of unprecedented proportions. This caused editors to scramble early the following year for more such heroes.

Vin Sullivan, the editor of Detective Comics during that era, years later recalled in an interview that he was looking for a new character to capture the imagination of America’s kids, just as Superman had. That same phenomenon had also created an interest in superheroes in general.

Since the veterans in his bullpen were already quite busy in this new publishing boom, Sullivan called upon the eager and much younger Kane, then only 18, and proposed that he design another "super"style character to compliment Superman. Kane agreed, and only a few days later, he returned to Sullivan's office with the Bat-Man concept.

Because of this order of events, some have suggested over the years that it might have really been Sullivan who came up with the idea. But no, while he may have been the instigator, he was not the originator - as even the Detective Comics editor himself has admitted:

“It started with an idea that Bob suggested,” said Sullivan. “Then he came back with pages of this new character… I don’t think anybody realized that it would develop into what it has become today. In fact, I’m sure they didn't… I just thought it was something that would pep up the magazines.”

Kane said that his influences for the character included actor Douglas Fairbanks' movie portrayal of the swashbuckler Zorro, Leonardo Da Vinci's diagram of the ornithopter, a flying machine with huge bat-like wings, and the silent film The Bat (1926), based on Mary Rinehart's mystery novel The Circular Staircase.

At that time Finger was a part-time shoe salesperson with dreams of being a full-time writer. He met Kane at a party, afterwhich Kane offered him a ghost writing job, starting him out on the strips Rusty and Clip Carson.

Finger has been quoted as saying, "Kane had an idea for a character called 'Batman,' and he'd like me to see the drawings. I went over to Kane's, and he had drawn a character who looked very much like Superman with kind of ... reddish tights, I believe, with boots... no gloves, no gauntlets... with a small domino mask, swinging on a rope. He had two stiff wings that were sticking out, looking like bat wings. And under it was a big sign - BATMAN."

Finger said he offered some suggestions, which included giving the character a cowl and scalloped cape instead of wings, adding gloves, and leaving the mask's eyeholes blank to connote mystery. But even if Kane had not worked in those changes, certainly the bright red sections of the original costume had to go.

Finger told him to tone it down with a gray and black color scheme instead, and Kane wisely took that advice. After all, even though he might be a daring crime-fighter, he wasn't supposed to be a circus performer. (Unfortunately, those garish colors would return, however, when Kane was later forced to include a sidekick for Batman called Robin, who indeed was a circus performer before joining the caped crusader. After that, Batman became much more of a camp figure than a grim and scary vigilante.)

But where had Finger's ideas come from? Just like Kane's, the answer can be found in the popular pulp magazines and movies of the era. Finger was influenced by Lee Falk's syndicated newspaper strip The Phantom, with which Kane was familiar as well. Kane, who had already submitted the proposal for Batman at DC, and held a contract for it, is therefore the only person given official company credit for Batman's creation.

According to Kane, Finger was a contributing factor regarding Batman. Not only did Finger write the earliest stories starring the character, but he was influential in setting the style that future Batman writers would emulate. "I made Batman a superhero-vigilante when I first created him," Kane has said, "but Bill turned him into a scientific detective." So in addition to Finger's Phantom influence, one would also have to add Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.

Shortly afterward, when DC wanted more Batman stories than Kane's studio could deliver, the company assigned Dick Sprang and other in-house pencilers as "ghost artists", working under Kane's supervision. (Back then most such talents were paid but uncredited, a situation that didn't change much until many years later in the 1960s, when Marvel became very liberal with printed artist and writer credits "movie style" on the splash pages of their comics.)

Batman debuted in Detective Comics 27 (May 1939) and proved a breakout hit. Within a year, Kane hired art assistants Jerry Robinson (initially as an inker) and George Roussos. In 1943, Kane left the Batman comic books to focus on penciling the daily Batman newspaper comic strip. DC Comics artists ghosting the comic-book stories now included Jack Burnley and Win Mortimer, with Robinson moving up as penciler, and Fred Ray contributing some covers. Starting to sound like Batman was already becoming a cottage industry of his own? He certainly was.

This kind of success is all the more remarkable, since one must remember it all happened during the first blast of Superman's gigantic start in publishing, where a lesser hero than Batman would normally have first been swept along with the general fanfare of superhero fame, and then tossed aside as a mere imitator. But Batman was never tossed aside, and hung in there solidly all along.


First Bat-appearance: Detective 27
(Click pic to enlarge.)
Copyright © 1939 DC Comics


Gardner Fox was both a pulp writer and a comics ghostwriter. In 1946, Kane returned to comic books but, unknown to DC, had hired his own personal ghosts: Fox, Lew S. Schwartz (from 1946-1953) and Sheldon Moldoff (from 1953-1967).

By early 1940, DC wanted to "kiddie up" the book, fearing that compared to Superman, Batman was ultimately a little too dark and depressing in the long run.

So once again they went to Kane, this time asking him to come up with an "antidote" to the dangerous character that, ironically, they had previously asked him to create. Kane thought about it, and recalled that in this area he had enjoyed the brash character Junior, who appeared in the Dick Tracy newspaper comic strip.

"Robin was an outgrowth of a conversation I had with Bob," Finger recalled. "Batman was a combination of [Douglas] Fairbanks and Sherlock Holmes. Holmes had his Watson. The thing that bothered me was that Batman didn't have anyone to talk to, and it got a little tiresome always having him thinking.

"I found that as I went along, Batman needed a Watson to talk to. That's how Robin came to be. Bob called me over and said he was going to put a boy in the strip to identify with Batman. I thought it was a great idea."

So while Finger may not have known at the time that DC wanted a sidekick for Batman, he was certainly open to the idea. If it had merely been a matter of Batman "needing someone to talk to," then of course that could have been taken care of by adding a sidekick or other close friend in the second issue. Obviously, the fact that Robin was not added until a year later, shows that it was DC, and not Kane or Finger, who made the call there.

While it was Finger who suggested that Batman's real name be Bruce Wayne, it was Robinson who came up with the name "Robin" for the sidekick. As one could guess, it was not only the Robin Hood books he had read during his boyhood, but his own name already had "Robin" in it. In a 2005 interview, Robinson said he was particularly inspired by one Robin Hood book's N.C. Wyeth illustrations.

And so the new DC character Robin was born, a young circus performer (real name Dick Grayson) who was, like Batman, orphaned when both of his parents were killed (while performing a high wire act). He came to live with Bruce Wayne as his ward in Detective Comics 38 (April 1940), and would inspire the creation of many similar sidekicks throughout the Golden Age of comic books. Pretty soon, you couldn't swing your arms without hitting some super-guy's sidekick.

Batman's arch-nemesis the Joker was also introduced around that same time, in Batman 1 (Spring 1940). The credit for that character's creation is a bit clouded, however. Robinson has claimed that he created it. However, according to Kane:

"Bill Finger and I created the Joker. Bill was the writer. Jerry Robinson came to me with a playing card of the Joker. That's the way I sum it up. [The Joker] looks like Conrad Veidt, you know, the actor in The Man Who Laughs, [the 1928 movie based on the novel] by Victor Hugo.

"Finger had a book with a photograph of Conrad Veidt, and showed it to me and said, 'Here's the Joker.' Jerry Robinson had absolutely nothing to do with it. But he'll always say he created it till he dies. He brought in a playing card, which we used for a couple of issues for him [the Joker] to use as his playing card."

Robinson has said that he countered that Bill Finger knew of Conrad Veidt because Bill had been to a lot of the foreign films. How that "counters" anything, however, is apparently only known to Robinson. One didn't have to go to foreign films to know who Veidt was, since in America he was also a well known star in his day, anyway.

"Veidt had this clown makeup with the frozen smile on his face," said Robinson. "When Bill saw the first drawing of the Joker, he said, 'That reminds me of Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs.' He said he would bring in some shots of that movie to show me. That's how that came about. I think in Bill's mind, he fleshed out the concept of the character."

All of which is fascinating, however Robinson does not say there whether said "first drawing" was by Kane or Robinson. No doubt Kane's position would be that the first drawing was by him, and as he has already said, Robinson merely supplied the playing card.

As Kane's comic work tapered off in the 1960s, he parlayed his Batman status into that of a minor celebrity. He enjoyed a post-comic book career in TV animation, creating the characters Courageous Cat and Cool McCool. 1966 was a landmark year for both Kane and the character of Batman, as ABC-TV came calling.

They were interested in doing a series starring the "Caped Crusader." This happened at a perfect time, when America was just starting to buy massive quantities of affordable color television sets, and tossing out their old black and white ones.

So a colorful new live action adventure about a dashing super-hero was just what the doctor (and the Neilson ratings system) ordered - the show was an immediate BIFF! BAM! POW! Hit! Once they cast Adam West as Batman, and Burt Ward as Robin, they were off and running. Of course, the weaker "Caped Crusader" title was trashed, in favor of the already well known "BATMAN."

A bit of movie trivia: Kane was set to have a cameo in the 1989 movie Batman, as the newspaper artist who prepares the drawing of the "Bat-man" for Alexander Knox, but scheduling conflicts prevented this. Kane's trademark signature in a square box can still be seen clearly on the drawing, however.

Yet he still wasn't through creating - the same year of that new Batman movie, Kane published the autobiography Batman And Me. Later he also produced a second volume, called Batman And Me: The Saga Continues, published in 1996.

Kane passed away on November 3, 1998, leaving behind his wife Elizabeth Sanders (Kane), an actress who appeared in three Batman films, a daughter, and grandson. He was interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills) in Los Angeles, California.

Said Robinson, "A lot of people don't give him [Kane] as much credit for his art, but I thought he had a flair. It was rudimentary, but in a way that worked to his benefit in the strip. He didn't know much about perspective and anatomy, so he had to improvise." And yes folks, coming from crusty old Robinson, believe it or not, that was a compliment!

See you next time, Bob Kane fans - same Bat-time, same Bat-cyber-channel!


HOLY BAT-LINKS!

Golden Age Batman site
The 1966 Batman TV tribute site
DC Database Project info on Kane
Batman's Cyber-Batcave at DC Comics
Kane on the Internet Movie Data Base
The Official Adam (TV Batman) West website
Batman And Me: Kane's classic autobiography


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