A Picture’s Worth #90 – Contents ©2012 Mike Pascale. Visuals copyright and trademark their respective owners.

 

First up, the first comics panel titled “Batman’s biggest Secret: The Bill Finger Story.” This was a fascinating taste of what you’ll find in Marc Tyler Nobleman’s new tome, BILL THE BOY WONDER: THE SECRET CO-CREATOR OF BATMAN, hosted by the author himself (who also penned BOYS OF STEEL: THE CREATORS OF SUPERMAN and dozens of other books).

Bill-the-Boy-Wonder-cover-LARGE-604x776

 

Marc was as energetic and enthusiastic about his subject as he was knowledgable and compassionate. This book took five years of research and it showed in his presentation (accompanied by a slide show). He started off with the fact that he found dozens if not hundreds of photos of Bob Kane, the self-proclaimed “Creator of Batman” on the Web and elsewhere. For Bill Finger, he found exactly two! Thankfully, upon digging (and more digging), he found a few more, courtesy of Finger’s ex-wife and widow. (My apologies for not showing more, but I forgot my memory card that day so I was severely limited to what I could take.)

The only two photos of Bill Finger originally thought to exist.

Here are my notes from the panel:

–How involved was Bill in Batman’s creation? Take a look at Bob Kane’s original design drawing of the character. Bill added the pointed ears, the color scheme, the familiar cape, and more, including writing the the origin story for DETECTIVE COMICS #39 back in 1939! You can’t find more of a “co-creator” example than that.

–Bob Kane himself admitted to Bill’s contribution in several instances and articles, but relented later in life. In fact, in his own autobiography (I think it’s the one titled, BATMAN AND ME), Kane actually published a *fake* page of “original sketches” of the character to claim all design credit!

–In the book, FIFTY WHO MADE DC GREAT, the only real mention of Bill comes from a quote from Kane, who called him, “A contributing force” in the Batman’s creation.” That claim would change later.

Left, Bob Kane’s original design of Batman. Dig those crazy red pajamas! Not exactly good for striking fear into evildoers’ hearts. Right, Kane’s obviously later-drawn attempt at Batman’s “original sketches”–with a little Leonardo DaVinci influence thrown in for good measure.

 

–According to the author’s research, the creation took place not at Bob’s house but Bill’s (he was the one with the typewriter) in Poe Park in the Bronx (named, appropriately enough, after fellow former resident Edgar Allen Poe).

–Marc went to Bill’s old high school, the famous DeWitt Clinton (where everyone from Will Eisner to Kane to Finger to Stan Lee to Harvey Kurtzman and a bunch of industry pioneers attended, in addition to future US presidents and captains of industry) and poured through scores of yearbooks over a ten-year period to find Bill’s high school photo. Nothing!

–Searching the US census records up to 1930, he found Bill’s family and his sister, who’s now in her 90s. Turns out she and her brother have been estranged since the 1930s and she wasn’t willing to talk. (More details here on Marc’s blog)

–Searching the census records for 1940, however, he found a second (younger) sister. From her, he found out that Bill was born “Milton” Finger (a name he hated). Going back to DeWitt’s yearbooks, he looked instead for “Milton Finger” and bingo! High school picture found (see the book).

Charles Sinclair, friend and writing partner of Bill Finger. More on him and his contributions by clicking image.

 

–Comics historian Jerry Bails was the first to “break” the news of Bill’s major contribution to Batman. He interviewed Finger for his fanzine in 1965 and wrote the article, “The Truth Be Known Or A Finger In Every Plot.” At the nascent New York comic convention that same year, Jerry organized a panel with Finger, Gardner Fox, Otto Binder and Mort Weisinger. (Can you imagine being in that audience?) It’s the only known panel Bill attended. Thankfully, much or all of the discussion was transcribed from an audio recording for Roy Thomas’s excellent-and-immortal ALTER EGO zine (issue 20, 2003). An account of the interview and more can be found on Marc Nobleman’s blog.

–Bill’s list of credits goes far beyond Batman’s early comics: he also co-created the Golden Age Green Lantern with Martin Nodell (writing the first origin tale in ALL-AMERICAN COMICS #16, 1940), wrote the first Lana Lang story, the origin of Krypton for Superman, the B-movie classic THE GREEN SLIME, and one episode of BATMAN TV show (first part of “The Clock King’s Crazy Crimes”).

More of Bill Finger’s uncredited writing. (What’s up with Superboy’s pose? Maybe the new Alan Scott knows…)

 

–There was very little known or shown of Bill Finger anywhere. Even when he passed away (mostly broke) in 1974, there was no obituary that Marc could find, save for a one-page notice in the company fanzine, THE AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS. Not so with Bob Kane, who received national news coverage.

–Bill was cremated and his ashes were laid upon a beach by his son Fred, who placed them in the shape of a Bat. (I think Bill would have dug that.)

Top: Bill Finger’s only obituary, anywhere. Bottom: Bob Kane’s grave marker, no doubt written by his biggest fan (himself). No grave marker for Bill, at least not then.

 

–Sadly, Fred died of AIDS in 1992, and the royalties for his dad’s work (what little their were), went to to a drifter Fred was living with, till the latter died in 2002. Marc found out Bill had had a daughter, Athena, whom he found on MySpace. Upon contacting her, she told him she wasn’t interested in suing DC, only in getting proper credit for her Dad. Marc kindly contacted DC for her and was able to transfer all royalty payments to her starting in 2007. So for 15 years there was no formal contract with DC regarding Bill Finger’s royalties.

As for the credit? Well, when you see THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (which I reviewed last week here), you won’t see Bill’s name. There’s only the usual, “Batman created by Bob Kane.” So when you do see the film, please take a moment to remember the true co-creator of the Dark Knight. And help pull his memory out of the darkness.

(You can contact DC and let them know you want credit for Bill here.

If only the Dark Knight could help his co-creator get the credit he deserves!

 

Thanks,
Mike

Bru-Hed CloseupP.S.: If you write to Marc, please tell him you read about his wonderful book here first! And as mentioned last week, if you want a commission of any of Bill’s co-creations (or other character!), I’d be happy to oblige. Just ask Craig here!

 

 

 

Published by Mike Pascale

Mike is a freelance storyboardist, artist, writer, comic book/web comic creator, graphic designer, award-winning senior art director/copywriter, Kubert School alumnus, Spectrum Fantasy Art award-winner, guitarist/songwriter, future novelist and full-time, life-long comics fan, pop culture collector, and book hoarder. His creations include Bru-Hed™ (America’s favorite Blockhead™), The Game Buzz!™ weekly webcomic, Nasti: Monster Hunter™, Mikey Moo-Moo™ and more “™s” waiting to be unleashed from his crazy cranium.

Join the Conversation

  1. Avatar
  2. Avatar
  3. Avatar
  4. Avatar
  5. Mike Pascale
  6. Avatar

11 Comments

  1. Sorry. Bill Finger made an important contribution to the development of Batman, but the character existed the moment Bob Kane came up with the idea and sold it.

    *Everything* after that is development.

    If Kane had decided to give Finger co-creator credit, that would be great. But I’m not in favor of a hired hand (no matter how important) taking credit from the original creator.

    So, no. Batman was created by Bob Kane. He was developed and (perhaps) perfected by Kane and Bill Finger.

  2. David,

    Bob Kane MIGHT have decided to name a character Batman…though even that is disputed. Kane went to DC without Finger and passed off Finger’s design as his own, pitching that alone (no backstory), but that hardly entitles him to full (or frankly, even half) credit when Finger did nothing short of the following:

    …designed Batman’s costume in 1939.

    …wrote the first Batman story, also in ‘39.

    …wrote Batman stories for 25 years, including his groundbreaking (and heartbreaking) origin.

    …was the first writer of Robin, Joker, Catwoman, and many more.

    …named Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, the Batmobile, and Gotham City.

    …nicknamed Batman “the Dark Knight.”

    In other words, everything that endures about Batman.

    This is hardly “development.” This is taking an empty shell and filling it to the brim.

    BTW, Kane never wrote a Batman story in his lifetime.

    So…”hired hand”?

  3. Sorry, Marc. You (and this blog’s author) come off as someone with an axe to grind, not a reliable resource.

    I know we’re all supposed to hate Bob Kane, but I just can’t see it. I haven’t seen anything that indicates my understanding of the situation is wrong: that Kane had the idea for Batman, hired Finger to help him develop it and then sold it to DC.

    Nothing I read here changes that view and Finger never pushed for this credit you want to give him. (Unless I’ve missed something.)

    So, if he didn’t ask for it, why should you?

    (And that drawing of Kane’s “original” Batman doesn’t look like Kane. Is it supposed to be? If it isn’t the article should say so.)

    What kills me about these kinds of articles and books is that it is supposedly about giving credit where credit is due, but it’s *really* about knocking down someone else…

  4. Mike, thanks for writing up your notes on the panel. I wish I had gotten to see them, but found myself watching my 12-year-old niece and helping out at the booth for most of my time in SDCC. Looking forward to more. Hope you went to see the Mark Schultz and Prince Valiant panels.
    Best,
    Steven

  5. Thanks for your feedback, David.

    It does not sound like you have read my book. If you had you would know that…

    1) …it is THE most reliable resource on this topic. I’ve been writing meticulously researched nonfiction for fifteen years. This book contains an extensive (yet still partial) source list, including multiple private documents and interviews never-before-referenced or -published. Plus the acknowledgments is much longer than you will find in most other picture books and includes numerous people who knew Bill personally and who had never been interviewed before:

    http://noblemania.blogspot.com/2012/04/it-is-now-physically-book.html

    2) …my intention is not to disparage Kane but rather tell the story properly for the first time in its own book, which means putting Finger at the center of the creative influence. It does not matter how much he PUSHED for credit. A person who does not stick up for himself – for reasons known or unknown – is no less deserving of fairness than one who does. I could give numerous grand-scale examples from history, but you know them already. I am not an every-man-for-himself person. And besides, if you do read my author’s note, you will see that Bill DID stand up for himself at least once that we have documentation for, though it did not, unfortunately, help him in the long run.

    3) …I am not disputing that Kane hired Finger. But that does not mean Kane can take full credit for all of Finger’s ideas even after Finger AND DC editors reveal otherwise. It does not mean Kane can publicly accuse Bill of LYING when he came clean (and Finger was not hostile or bitter). It does not excuse Kane for finally admitting that Finger DID do so much only AFTER Finger died. No, I am not out to knock down Kane. He did a great job of that on his own. None of the people I talked to who knew him – not a single one – had anything positive to say about him.

    And no one is suggesting that the drawing is supposed to look like Kane’s art. It is simply showing the costume as described by both Kane and Finger. It is about elements, not style.

    There is no excuse for NOT doing the right thing.

  6. Thanks for commenting, David. I’m sorry you interpreted the article in that way. I never met Bob Kane (or Bill) so I have no axe to grind (other than with DC for its inaccuracy).

    Marc has done better than I can in explaining why Bill co-created Batman, and it’s perfectly logical to me. Comics are a visual medium, so the look of the character is every bit as important as the name and other considerations. That is why Steve Ditko is co-creator of Spider-Man, Joe Shuster is the co-creator of Superman, and Jack Kirby is co-creator of the FF, the Hulk and so on.

    If you choose to have a different definitio of “creation”, that is your prerogative.

    I don’t see any “bashing” of Bob Kane, only a lot of positive comments and facts about Bill. (One smart-alec quip about Bob writing his tombstone, but after reading what it says, I think it’s fair.) As Marc’s book mentions, Bob himself credited Bill on different occasions! He just kept changing his story–and those are documented quotes.

    I don’t see how pointing out one man’s contributions degrades or defames another’s. For example, offering information about Kirby’s contributions doesn’t degrade Stan’s IMO, only offers more clarification about who did what, and focuses the (well-deserved) praise to where it should go. I think both men deserve to be treated fairly in terms of what they did, as well as how they treated others.

  7. And many thanks to Marc for sharing his wisdom and reason, and Steven for his comments! (Sorry I missed you again!! That show has gotten so big, it’s impossible to “run into” people anymore.) I’ll be doing a separate blog on the Schultz panel. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. David: Bob Kane was a lying liar who lied.

    He came up with a character called “Birdman” that Bill Finger renamed Batman, then designed a costume, weapons, back-story, villains, hideout, vehicle and hometown for him.

    The only thing Kane contributed to the story was the box saying “Created by Bob Kane” and he lied to get that.

    True story: When Kane was a child, his parents arranged with somebody to make his birth certificate disappear from the hall of records so that he would not get drafted later (this was pretty common at the time). Kane signed the standard contract with DC, the same one Siegel & Shuster signed, giving DC full ownership of Batman. Then, when the character became popular, he went to the bosses and told them (falsely) that he was under-age when he signed the contract and it was invalid. He then got his lawyer uncle to write up a new contract giving him ownership, royalties, and a creator credit. It was total fraud.

    Later, when Kane got out of comic books, he took up painting clown paintings in the manner of Red Skelton. He had ghost artists doing his clown paintings, and also underpaid and cheated them.

  9. Sorry, David, but it’s not that easy.

    Coming up with an idea is not the same as “creating” a character and concept. Every collaboration starts with a single idea, but the final, published result is the result of collaborators, and co-creators, honing the idea.

    There’s no doubt that Bill Finger co-created the Batman. The costume and the color scheme are as much a part of the character as the name. Writing the origin story might even move him ahead of Kane in terms of credit.

    I know that, as a writer, every concept I’ve “co-created” has started with my idea, but it was the work of the collaborators involved that brought them to life.

    Bob Kane’s solo Batman would have dropped off the map without the efforts of his co-creator, Bill Finger.

    1. Thanks, Clay–great to hear from you. Appreciate your professional insights! Have to agree 100 percent. Wish a lot of others in the industry did, too.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *