Sunday, 21 December 2014


From TRUE FACT COMICS #5, 1946.  Art by WIN MORTIMER, script
(Images copyright DC COMICS)

You'd think that BOB KANE, as the 'creator' of BATMAN, would be a revered figure in the world of comics, but that doesn't seem to be the case.  Going by accounts I've read of people who met him, he was egotistical, self-centred, and many fans found him to be an immense disappointment.  It gives me no joy to impart any of this information to anyone who isn't already aware of it, because it would be nice if he was held in the same high regard as STAN LEE is by his fans, but it's hard to escape the facts.

In BILL SCHELLY's excellent book, SENSE Of WONDER:  A LIFE In COMIC FANDOM, he has this to say about hearing Bob Kane speak (as one of the Guests of Honour) at the 1973 New York Comic Art Convention.


                     "The first major event of the comicon was a talk by Bob Kane.
                     While some knew that others had contributed much to make
                     Batman a great success, Kane was held in high esteem.  When
                     he was introduced and strode up to the front of the room, a tall,
                     good-looking man with a dark tan, he received a thunderous
                     standing ovation.

                     When he left the room after completing his talk, the applause
                     was a mere polite smattering.  Bob Kane had gone from hero to
                     heel in a mere half-hour.  That was no mean accomplishment,
                     given his place in the comic book firmament.

                     How did he do it?

                     Humility was not a trait that could be found in Bob Kane.
                     There was little room to admire him when he was so busy ad-
                     miring himself.  All his stories about his time in the industry, the
                     awards he'd received, the celebrities he'd met, and the movie
                     projects he'd masterminded, had one thing in common:  they
                     were to reinforce how great, how brilliant, and how famous
                     Bob Kane was.

                     It was nauseating.

                     Having enjoyed the adventures of Batman and Robin for
                     so many years, I was disappointed to discover that the man
                     behind the Dynamic Duo was such a jerk.  It wasn't that Kane
                     was having a bad day, either;  I heard later that stories about
                     the man's ego were legion."


I once read an interview with Kane in which he related the tale of someone at a convention asking him to autograph an issue of either DETECTIVE COMICS #27 or BATMAN #1.  Kane offered the fan a page (or two) of original artwork in exchange for the comic and was astounded when his offer was politely declined.  "Why would anyone prefer a printed comic over original art by the guy who drew it?" he mused.  (And the pages he was offering were not from the comic he was trying to swap them for.)  No great surprise really, as, at the time, the comic was worth many thousands of dollars (which Kane must surely have known), whereas there wasn't really much demand for original Bob Kane art - especially as it was suspected that he routinely back-dated his artwork decades earlier than it had actually been produced.

I remember reading another interview (or perhaps it was the same one) in which he says he just couldn't understand the scene in FRANK MILLER's The DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, where an emaciated SUPERMAN's costume 'fills out' as he flies closer to the sun, the source of his power.  Was Kane really ignorant of this long-established piece of Superman folklore?  If so, it tends to suggest a lack of interest in any comic that wasn't by him.  (Although not many actually were, according to some.)

Having read his autobiography, BATMAN And ME, some years ago, I was struck by how unsophisticated Kane appeared to be.  There's an account of when, as a youth, he encounters a neighbourhood gang, and the comicbook dialogue he attributes to them as he dashingly and daringly (as he tells it) evades their clutches reads like pure invention.  As does his tale of meeting a young (and as yet unknown) MARYLIN MONROE and going to the beach with her for a swim;  it has all the hallmarks of fiction by a fantasist who just can't see that his stories are unbelievable.

In the 1989 BATMAN movie, a newspaper cartoonist hands a sketch of a bat-like creature to one of the reporters.  It's prominently signed 'Bob Kane';  the reporter takes one look at the sketch and mutters "What a d*ck!"  Were the movie-makers delivering their verdict on Bob Kane, the creator (or co-creator) of one of the most popular icons of 20th century mythology?  Sadly, it very much seems like it.

However, this isn't meant to be a 'hatchet job' on Bob Kane. I write this post in sorrow rather than in anger, and certainly no malice is intended on my part.  I merely want to point out that it's just a shame that Batman's creator isn't held in the same high esteem as his creation - even if it does seem to be largely his own fault.  At least Bob wasn't (as far as the credits go anyway) responsible for the following 'highly imaginative' account of how Dynamic Duo first came to be.  Cue Jackanory theme music...


DeadSpiderEye said...

I believe it all, right down to the animated maquettes offering their gratitude. I do recall a story from Jim Steranko, I'm sure you've read it, Steranko relates how he took offence at Kane's demeanour towards him at a Comic Con. Kane seems to have pulled a few people's patience plug out, for reasons I can't quite discern. Steranko seems to have got the ump because he was a bit too familiar and he didn't like the cravat that Kane was wearing. While that does seem: a little eccentric, it's not really something I could get worked up about. The tale about trying to swindle a fan out of his valuable comics and then complaining about the ingratitude of that fan, when he doesn't fall for it, does seem to belie a certain lack of self awareness. There's a suspicion of a certain degree of apocrypha though and it's tame compared to the reality of the unfettered and freely dispensed bitching we've had from some notables over the last few years. I don't like it when it's the talent throwing mud at each other, it's unedifying, smacks of professional jealousy and it's something they should be leave to those in the suits.

Kid said...

Actually, DSE, I don't recall ever reading that Steranko story. Do you know where I could find it? (Edit: I tracked it down and read it, DSE. Interesting story.)

There does seems to be a certain resentment of Kane by other professionals, as you note, but I think it was down to him claiming credit for other people's art and not fully acknowledging Bill Finger's involvement in Batman's creation until near the end of his (Kane's) life.

There's also a letter by Kane somewhere, in which he categorically denies using ghost artists, and claims to draw each and every page appearing in the Batman comics. Professional jealousy? I think the fact that his father negotiated such a sweet deal on his behalf with National/DC for close to 30 years probably did ruffle a few professional feathers, but it's understandable when Kane was benefiting handsomely for so long without actually contributing much, if anything, for a large part of that time. Understandable but ironic, as that was the situation they seemingly craved (and sometimes campaigned for) for themselves.

But - professional side of things apart - what's your take on the fan's reaction to him, as testified to in Bill Schelly's account?

DeadSpiderEye said...

Here's a link to a truncated account of the story: there's actually a video of Stranko recounting the tale too, which goes into a bit more detail:

I dare say that there's likely to be truth in some of the stories about him, I wouldn't exclude Bill Schelly's recollections from that possibility. Fans can be a bit of burden, if you're not interesting in saying what they wanna hear. The other point I'd make, without making judgements on the stories concerned, is that when head of steam gets behind a certain view of an individual, it's the momentum that produces, that becomes important and not the facts of the incidents themselves when others make judgements on an individual.

I'd think I'll stand by the presumption of professional jealously for the moment, I think it's important to recognise what happens to the talent when they don't look after their own interests. Kane didn't suffer some of those privations cos he was a bit smarter than most, so are we supposed to despise him because he wasn't a pauper? You gotta make the most of the cash while it's coming in, cos tomorrow's just around the corner and that -great guy- who was so popular because he didn't take a cut when he could've, is just another out of work has been when the wind changes.

Kid said...

I think there's a fair element of truth in what you say about a 'head of steam' getting behind public perceptions of an individual, but that has a limited application in this instance, I'd say. What's remarkable is that, with Kane, nobody seems to be standing up and saying "No, he wasn't like that!" There just doesn't seem to be anyone defending him, which is usually the situation when someone thinks that another person is being unfairly maligned. There are plenty accounts of how great it was to meet other comicbook creators, but it would appear that none exist in Kane's case.

I can only go by what I've read in interviews and in his autobiography, but he doesn't exactly strike me as being particularly 'smart'. It was his father (I believe) who negotiated his deal with DC - Kane himself comes across as rather an obtuse, self-obsessed individual, play-acting the part of artist and social-sophisticate rather than actually being so.

And none of the accounts of people's disappointment at meeting him seem to stem from jealousy of what a great artist he was, or how successful he was - they're all concerned with how badly he treated his assistants and hogged all the credit for Batman, even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary.

DeadSpiderEye said...

I think the balance of evidence, such as it is, supports your view of Kane. It's just, some of the conclusions I've witnessed others expressing about him seem to push it a bit far. He seems to cut a slightly effete figure, somewhat out of touch: as you say, 'play acting' but I'm not sure he's the only culprit. I've seen a few notables guilty of similar behaviour, you know, encouraging a bit of the mythology that surrounds them, it's just that they do it a little better. I don't blame 'em for doing it, if you don't big yourself up, no one's gonna do it for you and reputation is essential for creatives. When I seem 'em singling Kane out for the: the emperor is naked treatment, it seems slightly disingenuous to me.

Another point I'd make is that the opposite case can also be true, that is: when a fellow creative refuses to play the game of mutual adoration. I know it's outside the comics world but the example I would cite is an interview William F. Buckley conducted with Jack Kerouac. Kerouac was a little worse for wear and he really didn't have any time for the pseudy nonsense that Buckley and the other guests were spouting. The consequence was, that Buckley got a bit shirty, he and his other guests indulged in a bit of supercilious gibing at poor old Kerouac. So it seem that you can't win, if you come clean and say: 'look it's just a comic I drew, I don't know what all the fuss is about, your auntie could do it just as well' people are gonna get upset because your disturbing the mythology. Mr. DC will probably bawl you out over his desk over the drop in sales. If you go the Bob Kane route: 'Every thing I do is fantastic, that's why you're so lucky you can buy my comics so cheaply' and you're succesful at it, which he was, you get this resentment from fellow professionals.

Kid said...

I suspect that Kane was a simple soul who felt obliged to play the part that fate had handed him, DSE, and was surprised, even overwhelmed, by his own achievement of having actually come up with such a comicbook icon as Batman. That kind of success tends to swell people's egos, because their accomplishment is beyond what they thought they had the ability to attain.

Gotta confess, I was never impressed by Kerouac's poetry, although I'm not familiar with the interview you speak of, but I hear what you're saying. However, there are plenty examples of comic creators being seemingly quite happy about other creators' successes (at least the ones they're friendly with), but Kane's unpopularity with other artists and writers appears to have sprung from a sense of him not been deserving of it, as others had done the work on his behalf.

I think you make a good point which probably applies in a few cases, but I'm not persuaded that it's fully applicable in Kane's situation. Know what, 'though? I think I'd like it to be.

DeadSpiderEye said...

I'm not a Kerouac fan either, I tried, On The Road, found it a bit parochial, I think it's probably difficult to appreciate unless you're a yank. As for his poetry, mmm, yeah well, nuff said, to borrow from Stan Lee. Although if I were to offer an insight, I'd say he'd encountered Randell Jarrell and maybe some been influenced by Japanese works but his emulation of them is solely stylistic, lacking any meaning. That's the way it seems to me but I don't make any claims about my insight, I'm just another reader. The man himself though, seemed pretty much undisturbed by the idle musings of those discussing his work, I thought that was kinda cool.

Kid said...

Some former Dandy contributors would've been wise to adopt that approach to discussions about their work, DSE. (Oh, I just couldn't help myself.)

Captain Blog said...

I think the final say on this can be found on Bob Kane's tombstone. If you haven't read it, please do a google search and check it out. It is a story of it's own.

Kid said...

Oh dear! (Found it!) Quite nauseating, isn't it?

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