Super Types

September 15, 2009
 

Those Who Came Before: Bob Kane

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Written by: Eli
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So you’ve made it to the first of my monthly columns, Those Who Came Before, focusing on comic creators of the past. More specifically, focusing on artists and writers who made their debut prior to 1990. This month we’ll take a look at Bob Kane, creator of Batman.

Bob Kane with Michael Keaton

Bob Kane with Michael Keaton, 1989

 

Bob Kane is officially credited with creating Batman, as well as contributing to the creation or development of several other characters. There are many, among them are Alfred Pennyworth, Commissioner Gordon, Catwoman, Mr. Freeze, Mad Hatter, Penguin, Harvey Dent, and the Gotham City Police Dept. When discussing the creation of Batman, the name Bill Finger must be included. Both Kane and Finger are important to Batman’s beginning, as can be seen by the credits of Batman’s first appearance, which was drawn by Kane and written by Finger. I’ll take a look at Finger in a future column. As you’d expect, Kane has been recognized for his artistic talents. He has to his credit an Inkpot Award in 1978, an Eagle Award, and he was a 1994 inductee into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame. Then in 1996 he was invited into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame.

One of the first things that struck me about Bob Kane was his high school. He graduated in 1933 from DeWitt Clinton High School in New York city. What’s notable about this is who else was there back in the thirties; they had Will Eisner, a classmate of Kane’s, in the class of 1936, Stan Lee was there too, graduating with the class of 1939, and Finger, Kane’s future Batman collaborator, who graduated in the class of 1933. I don’t know about you, but this roster puts my high school to shame. I wonder what the class reunions were like?

Bob Kane was born Robert Kahn, on October 24, 1915 in New York. Kahn legally changed his name to Bob Kane at the age of 18. He died at 83 years of age in 1998, survived by his wife, daughter, and a grandson. Kane lived long enough to see Batman on television, on the big screen, and in animated form. His wife, Elizabeth Sanders, even appeared in three of the Batman films. She played “Gothamite #4” in Batman Returns in 1992, but had a bigger role as Gossip Gerty in Batman Forever(1995) and again in Batman & Robin(1997).

Kane's early work

Kane's early work

 

Kane’s first foray into comics was freelancing in 1936 with Jerry Iger’s Wow, What A Magazine! Then came work on Hiram Hick, and humor features Ginger Snap, Oscar the Gumshoe, and Professor Doolittle. Kane went from doing slapstick to illustrious art for Adventure Comics with Rusty and His Pals. Admittedly, the switch was made for financial reasons. At that time the artists working on Superman, a superhero adventure comic, were making somewhere in the neighborhood of $1600 a week between them, while Kane was making about $25 with his slapstick art. How many of us make $1600 a week now, 70 years later? Then in 1939 Batman is introduced to the world in the pages of Detective Comics #27, and Bob’s life is forever changed. By 1941 he was making a very handsome wage for his work, around $1000 a week. I don’t think I’d know what to do with myself if my income increased that much in such a short period of time.

Batman, continuously published for 70 years now, was an immediate hit, and was quickly selling out. DC Comics wanted more material to assuage the public’s bat-hunger, and Kane hired more men to aid in turning out the work. By the mid forties Kane had left the Batman comic book for work on the daily Batman newspaper comic strip. He returned to the comic book in 1946, and his name appeared on the book until the mid sixties. At that point Kane switched from drawing Batman on covers and in panels, to putting him on canvas. Work with Hollywood on the Batman TV show followed. While the campy interpretation of Batman in the sixties TV show was alright with Kane, it was far from his favorite. He also consulted on the Batman movie released in 1989, and was happy with how his creation was handled. As far back as 1980 he was involved in the process for that film, and stayed involved, even having a presence on set. “I envisaged Gotham the way I see it now at Pinewood. They’ve got it, every building, every trash can, every brick,” said Kane when looking at the buildings at Pinewood Studios that would make up “Gotham City” for the 1989 Batman film. Kane has released two biographies, Batman and Me in 1989, and Batman and Me, The Saga Continues in 1996. Kane continued to benefit from Bruce Wayne for the rest of his life. While he didn’t own the copyright to Batman, which is held by DC, he did receive a portion of the merchandising. So, from the creative work that Bob started in 1939, he was able to provide for himself and his family for the rest of that century. Talk about an investment.

So, how did Kane come up with Batman, or Bruce Wayne for that matter? When asked how a Jewish kid growing up in the Bronx came up with a name like Bruce Wayne, such a non-Jewish sounding name, for his super hero, he replied that Bruce Wayne is a alliteration of Bob Kane. Alliteration huh, Bob Kane, Bruce Wayne… I get it.

“I wanted to be Bruce Wayne, in my revelry and in my day dreams I felt, instead of a poor kid, I imagined I’d like to be a rich playboy, and fight crime at night because I hate all injustices in the world.” — Bob Kane during a 1990 interview

ornithopterAmong Kane’s influences for Batman were Leonardo Da Vinci’s diagram of the ornithopter, and the film The Mark of Zorro. I seem to remember Bruce Wayne mentioning Zorro once? Well, I guess it figures if he did.

I learned some interesting things about Bob Kane while researching this column. Back when he was younger, he was afraid of bats. Really?!? Yes really. I guess bats actually were pretty scary back then. In fact, when presented with the name Batman, Kane’s publisher suggested that he change the name, citing it as too ominous. After the success of Batman, Bruce Wayne was allowed to keep his alter ego. Also, much like myself, and a lot of Batman fans, Kane prefers the dark and brooding version of Batman. I don’t know about you, but I think that makes him a bit cooler.

It’s hard to imagine the roller coaster of a ride that Kane’s life became as a result of being Bob Kane, creator of Batman. It was a ride that continued for his whole life. I know that I’m glad he did what he did all those years ago. Batman continues to be one of my absolute favorite characters, both in print and the animated series of the nineties. So I’ll say thank you to Bob for giving us such a tortured soul as Bruce Wayne to satisfy our comic appetites.

You can find Bob Kane’s 1990 interview with Terry Gross here.

Eli
eli@comicattack.net

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