Kane / FingerPART 1 of 3

BATMAN -- that international champion of justice, that dreaded scourge of evil -- was created by a garment worker and a shoe salesman named, respectively, Robert Kahn and Bill Finger (both pictured right). And it all started in the Bronx!

DeWitt-Clinton High School in the Bronx, New York boasts an amazing list of prestigious alumni, including actors Don Adams, Judd Hirsch and Burt Lancaster, comedian Robert Klein, writer James Baldwin, designer Ralph Lauren, and playwrights Neil Simon and Adolph Green. There are dozens of other famous alumni too!


In addition to the men shown above, DeWitt-Clinton also educated several future comic superstars: Bill Finger and Robert Kahn, writer/publisher Stanley Lieber (STAN LEE, pictured left), “Dondi” artist Irwin Stan LeeHasen, and “Spirit” creator WILL EISNER! Robert Kahn was a good friend of Will Eisner’s, but Kahn didn’t know Bill Finger in high school.

Kahn recalls, Will Eisner“I started selling cartoons when I was about 16. I got $5 a page for a cartoon, which was a lot of money in 1936. After I graduated from high school, I went to work for six months at Max Fleischer Studios, where they had Popeye and Betty Boop. From there I won a scholarship and studied art for around nine months [at the Commercial Art Studio, Cooper Union, and the Art Students League].”

When the depression forced Kahn to quit his beloved art school to contribute to the family income, Kahn began working at his uncle’s garment factory. He despised the job. “It’s difficult to put into words the loathing I felt,” he later recalled.

Breaking into the Comic Industry

Robert Kahn met Bill Finger at a party, when Kahn was 19, and Finger 21. At the time, Finger was working as a shoe salesman. Born in Denver, Colorado, Finger had moved to New York City Eisnerwhen he was very young, and had grown up in the atmosphere of his father's tailor shop. When the shop closed during the depression, Finger took a number of odd jobs to help support his family, including clerking in a hat store, selling shoes, and even driving a taxi cab.

Finger and Kahn discovered they shared a common fascination with COMICS -- not fledgling comic BOOKS, which were just getting started at this time, but comic STRIPS, the lucrative promised land of the cartooning profession. Kahn decided to QUIT the garment business to try his luck as a cartoonist.

Kahn’s bedroom in his family apartment on the Grand Concourse became a makeshift studio as Finger and MMKahn began collaborating, with Finger doing the writing and Kahn doing the drawing, but to conceal his Jewish “secret identity” -- just as Stanley Lieber had become Stan Lee and Jacob Kurtzberg had become Jack Kirby -- Robert Kahn also assumed a new name of his own creation: BOB KANE.

Kane eventually began working for his old high school chum, Will Eisner, at the legendary Eisner-Peter PuppIger studio (see "Spirit" cartoon above, drawn by Eisner for Kane and included in Kane's autobiography), drawing mostly crude, cartoonish humor strips such as a Mickey Mouse-inspired dog named Peter Pupp (pictured right, in upper right of panel). The character looks very much like Mickey, but with a dog's floppy ears.

Credit Declined

The first-ever Superman adventure was credited to “Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster,” but when Finger and Kane sold their first series to DC Comics, it was published with Kane’s byline only. Finger’s writing “credit card” was omitted. Why? Finger was insecure. He was not good at standing up for himself, he was a Signaturesperfectionist who had trouble meeting deadlines, and was sometimes plagued by writer’s block. He would later develop drinking problems. Perhaps Finger felt that since he was working directly for Kane, not DC, he’d best just keep his mouth shut and collect his payments. Whatever the reason, Bill Finger Terryreceived no official credit for the story, and the “Kane only” precedent was set.

Kane’s signature/credit on “Rusty” was modeled after Milton Caniff’s signature/credit, with Kane imitating Caniff’s blocky printing and extra-big letter “O,” and surrounding his name with a box. Shown left are the two men’s “credit-logos," side by side.

The strip, which ran in ADVENTURE COMICS, was a somewhat crude but enjoyable pastiche patterned after Milton Caniff’s “Terry and the Pirates” called “Rusty and his Pals.” Here’s a sample...


After “Rusty and his Pals,” Kane -- still employing Bill Finger as his anonymous writing partner -- sold DC another character Vin Sullivannamed “Clip Carson.” The character was a knock-off of Alex Raymond's “Jungle Jim.” While doing “Clip Carson” for Action Comics, Bob Kane developed a relationship with Action’s editor, Vince Sullivan. DC had recently struck gold with SUPERMAN, and Sullivan was frantically hunting for new “mystery men” (aka Bob Kanesuperheroes) to add to the stable.

One Friday afternoon in 1939, Bob Kane asked Sullivan how much money Siegel and Shuster were making for doing Superman. Kane was shocked when the editor reportedly told him the two depression-era teenagers made about $800 a week from their breakthrough character. Sullivan also told a stunned Kane that he was looking for a NEW superhero to headline another title he edited, DETECTIVE COMICS. With stars in his eyes, Kane boasted HE would create that new hero -- over the weekend.

The Birth of Bird-Man

Since Kane was Jewish, he probably went to Temple at sunset on Friday, returned home for a period of rest where all work is disallowed, then returned to Temple the following day. Did he use this time to envision the character he hoped would become the Hawkmennext Superman? It's more than likely he did. The Man of Steel had cornered the market on BLUE tights and BLACK hair, so Kane decided to give his new hero Flash GordonRED tights and BLONDE hair, plus a Phantom-style domino mask.

Mimicking the HAWKMAN characters seen in Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon (pictured left and right), Kane would add a pair of mechanical wings, and call his creation... “BIRD-MAN.”

After leaving Temple on Saturday, Bob Kane probably raced home to put his ideas down on paper. Where did Kane get the inspiration for his first “Bird-Man” sketch? Kane has long cited Zorro as one of his influences, and one swash-buckling scene in the movie shows Zorro swinging Zorrofrom window to window on a rope. This memorable movie moment may have inspired Kane to depict HIS new hero doing the very same thing. Shown right is the scene from "The Mark of Zorro" (in sepia-tinted black and white, as it was originally seen in theaters):

Bob Kane's father had once pawned his gold watch to buy a drawing table for his son. It's likely that Bob Kane sat down at this drawing board and created a sketch which probably looked very much like the one seen below. This
recreation, by Arlen Schumer, first appeared in Comic Book Artist #5, and is shown here with Mr. Schumer's kind permission:

Arlen Schumer

FlashEverybody Loves Raymond

Did Bob Kane create the first sketch of “Bird-Man” from his own fertile imagination? The history-making answer, as Arlen Schumer first pointed out in Comic Book Artist #5, was that Kane made a direct SWIPE from a panel in the January 17, 1939 Flash Gordon Sunday comic strip, drawn by
Alex Raymond (panel shown right)!

Compare Schumer's recreation of Kane's drawing (above) with the Flash Gordon panel (right), and it becomes undeniable that Kane swiped the Raymond figure -- right down to the twisting vine that encircled Flash's right arm, which became a twisting bat-rope encircling Bird-man's arm.

With his swiped sketch complete, Kane probably flew through the night to Bill Finger’s house, to get his silent partner’s input. Finger wasn’t terribly impressed with Kane’s concept. He didn’t think a hero named “Bird-Man” would be accepted as a lead feature for a book titled DETECTIVE Comics. Finger suggested they instead pattern the new character after pulp mystery men such as THE SHADOW.

Bat-Man Begins

All his life, Bob Kane maintained that he was inspired by several different sources to change the name “Bird-Man,” but this claim is a thoroughly fallacious subterfuge. As we’ll see in our next chapter, one source -- and one source ALONE -- inspired the change of the prefix of the new hero’s name from “Bird” to the mysterious and batnocturnal sounding “BAT.”

Then, as recorded in The Steranko History of Comics, Finger recalls, "I got Webster's Dictionary off the shelf and was hoping they had a drawing of a BAT, and sure enough it did. I said, Action'Notice the ears! Why don't we duplicate the ears?' I suggested [Bob] draw what looked like a cowl. I had suggested he bring the nosepiece down and make him mysterious and not show any eyes at all. I didn't like the wings, so I suggested he make a cape and scallop the edges so it would flow out behind him when he ran and would look like bat wings. He didn't have any gloves on. We gave him gloves.”

The next problem: What SETTING should the writer and artist use for their new hero’s first front cover image? Again, let’s copy the superstar -- Superman. The cover of the then-recent issue of Action Comics (#7, Dec. 1938, shown left) showed Superman dragging a terrified criminal high above the city.

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, Finger and Kane (or possibly Kane on his own) may have decided their NEW hero should do exactly the same. So Kane drew a similar scene, substituting the figure he had swiped from Flash Gordon for Superman. Kane's drawing, which was to be used almost unaltered for the cover of Batman's first adventure, looked something like this:

Tec 27
Kane MAY have created the cityscape and two thugs all by himself (more on that in part three), but there can no longer be any doubt that he swiped the main figure -- among the first ever done of Batman -- from Alex Raymond. Just look at the two drawings side by side:
Kane swipe

A New Thrilling-Adventure Strip is Born!

The weekend over, Kane showed up at DC on Monday and submitted his work to Vin Sullivan, as promised. The editor loved it, and commissioned Kane to come up with a STORY starring the mysterious new character, who was to be called "The Batman." Pictured below is the rarely-seen original advertisement for the first Batman story, featuring the first image of Batman ever printed, which ran in Action Comics #12:

Batman ad
As the ad above says, "The Batman" -- a new thrilling-adventure strip -- was scheduled to start in the May issue of Detective Comics, for which Kane's swiped concept sketch would provide the cover. And the rest, as they say, is HISTORY. Or at least it USED to be...


Click here for Chapter TWO in this three-part series!

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Click here for Chapter TWO in this three-part series!