If you look at all the mainstream attention Robert Kirkman is getting due to the success of AMC’s The Walking Dead, you’d think it was crazy. (Really, a comics writer on The View?) But in reality, it’s hardly the first time. In the 1960s, when the Adam West Batman television series kicked off, Bob Kane experienced his own groundswell of attention — and he loved it. Around that time, Kane started branching out from his comics illustrating to do a series of oil paintings of Batman and the primary characters in Gotham City, and took to showing them — and posing in great posed photos like the one above (via Pop Culture Safari).
It was later revealed that to create these paintings Kane had hired artists to “ghost” after him, much like he hired artists like Sheldon Moldoff to assist his comics work in the ’50s and ’60s. It’s hard to say how much of the paintings are his and how much he had assistance on, but either way they’re a unique treasure — just like these photos of the paintings and Kane hamming it up for the camera.
It’s never too early to learn what a cesspool of shady business practices and money-driven infighting the industry responsible for creating and promoting your favorite noble champions of justice really was.
That’s the thought that kept running through my head as I made my way through Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, author Marc Tyler Nobleman’s follow-up to his 2008 Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman.
Like his previous work, Boy Wonder is a non-fiction picture book aimed at children. At least in presentation; I can’t imagine very young children being as interested in it as grown-ups though, and for grown-ups, there’s an excellent all-prose, six-page article marked “Author’s Note” at the end, fleshing out the more simplified story that fills the bulk of the page count with plenty of detail and discussing Nobleman’s process of research for the book.
The story of the late Bill Finger — who is, of course, the Bill in the title — doesn’t quite fit into a picture book format as easily as that of young Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. There are a lot of similarities between the creators of Superman and the uncredited co-creator of Batman, including their backgrounds, the settings their stories occurred in, the impact of their creation and their unfortunate lack of participation in the rewards of that success, but Finger’s story is a lot more complicated than that of the boys from Cleveland, and lacks the natural melodrama of their hard-luck childhood and the epiphany nature of their hero’s inception (as presented in Boys of Steel, following Siegel’s own accounts, Superman’s transformation from a concept the young writer toyed with over the years into the world’s first superhero came in a sort of fever dream fit of inspiration one night).
Publishing | Kodansha’s Attack on Titan, the action-fantasy manga by Hajime Isayama, has sold more than 9 million copies in Japan, according to the Sports Nippon newspaper. The eighth volume was released last week in Japan; Kodansha USA will publish the second volume next month in North America. [Anime News Network]
Publishing | Alex Zalben pays a visit to the Valiant offices and talks shop with editor Warren Simons: “Asking whether the idea was to set these up so that you can go right to TV, video games, or other properties, Simons strongly denies that was behind the relaunch. ‘I think you have guys who really love comic books,’ said Simons. ‘I’m just interested in publishing comic books. Obviously in this space, in this day and age you want to pay attention to everything – just like everyone does. But I think it all derives from publishing … [The publishers] just wanted to read comics about the characters that they loved growing up!’” [MTV Geek]
Creators | While acknowledging the agreement that names Bob Kane as the sole creator of Batman, The Washington Post’s Michael Cavna and Bill: The Boy Wonder author Marc Tyler Nobleman make the case for giving writer Bill Finger a screen credit on The Dark Knight Rises. [Comic Riffs]
Conventions | Although Comic-Con International is usually thought of as a stage for movie studios, major comics publishers and video-game developers, Mark Eades looks at the event as a showcase for small businesses, from artists to toymakers. [The Orange County Register]
Conventions | Robot 6 contributor Brigid Alverson reports on the kids’ comics scene at Comic-Con International, including news that Papercutz will produce a comic based on the viral web phenomenon “Annoying Orange.” [Publishers Weekly]
“I’ve never been one of these people who worries about [that]. I should have been. I’d be wealthy now, if I had been. I always felt the publisher was the guy investing all his money, and I was working for the publisher, and whatever I did belonged to him. That was the way it was. And I was always treated well, I got a good salary. I was not a businessman. Now, a guy like Bob Kane, who did Batman — the minute he did Batman, he said, ‘I wanna own it,’ and signed a contract with DC. So he became reasonably wealthy. He was the only one who was smart enough to do that. [...] I haven’t had reason to think about it that much. I think, if somebody creates something, and it becomes highly successful, whoever is reaping the rewards should let the person [who] created it share in it, certainly. But so much of it is — it goes beyond creating. A lot of people put something together, and nobody really knows who created it, they’re just working on it, y’know? But little by little, the artists and the writers now are a different breed than they were, and most of them, if they create anything new, they insist that they be part owners of it. Because they know what happened to Siegel and Shuster, and to me, and to people like that. I don’t think it’s a problem anymore. They make much more money than they used to make, when I was there. Proportionately. Everybody thought that I was the only one that was getting paid off, but I never received any royalties from the characters. I made a good living, because I was the editor, the art director, and the head writer. So I got a nice salary. That was all I got. I was a salaried guy. But it was a good salary. And I was happy.”
– Stan Lee, in a wonderful profile at Grantland, responding to a question about character ownership
All the recent talk of creator credits has reminded me of Bill Finger and Bob Kane. Throughout the character’s history, Kane has been listed officially as Batman’s sole creator, even though many comics fans, historians, and professionals recognize Finger’s indelible contributions. Kane’s singular credit comes from his own negotiations for the sale of Batman to what is now DC Comics, and it continues to this day. In fact, the most recent trailer for The Dark Knight Rises — which as usual flashes “Batman created by Bob Kane,” or something like it, in the brief glimpse of credits — reminded me that Kane had help.
Indeed, the circumstances of Batman’s creation, sale, and subsequent treatment may even comprise one of superhero comics’ great ironies. Batman is a tremendously elastic character, able to accommodate an incredible range of interpretations. Perhaps none of that would have been possible if Kane hadn’t sold the character … but he wouldn’t be the Batman we know today if Kane hadn’t listened to Bill Finger.
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