Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bill Finger in “75 Years of DC Comics”

In November, the coffee table book 75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking by Paul Levitz came out.

It’s far too big for your backpack—and, possibly, your coffee table—yet unfortunately not big enough to properly acknowledge Bill Finger’s substantial role in creating Batman.

Of course, DC doesn’t officially credit Finger.

Yet even previous DC-sanctioned books including
Batman: The Complete History (1999) have told the story more fairly.

And granted, in a book of this scope, space for elaboration is at a premium.

Yet “co-creator” (even if that exact term is not used) is hardly a negligible detail.

This language diminishes (practically extinguishes) Finger’s involvement:

Further, in stating that editor Vin Sullivan suggested that cartoonist Bob Kane bring in Finger as writer, the book also contradicts every other source on this that I've seen, including Sullivan himself in Alter Ego #27 (8/03):
[Who wrote the comics I edited] would have been outside my range of interests. If they [MTN: seemingly meaning Bill Finger and anyone else] were writing for Bob Kane or working with him, I had nothing to do with it. As long as he brought in the completed feature.

…a lot of the fellas had their own writers, you might say, or writers would get with the artists. I would have nothing to do with them. I would take the finished product. If the finished product was assembled by two or three people, it didn’t matter to me as long as it was a good-looking page.

Jerry Robinson is another who has corroborated this, multiple times; one instance is in his interview in The Comics Journal #271 (10/05): “Nobody knew anything about Bill or myself until later on [MTN: specifically, at least several months after the debut of Batman].”

Therefore, it seems the book is trying to imply that Finger was
—from the get-goa DC work-for-hire with respect to Batman. If true, that would be significant because the estates of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster successfully argued in court that their original Superman strip was not work-for-hire, entitling them to a portion of profits generated by that material.

But, worth repeating, this claim that Sullivan suggested Finger is not true.

Though it doesn't make up for these oversights, the book does contains a Finger photo I’d not seen before, and a stellar one at that—a dinner gathering (circa 1945) of comics luminaries:


Finger is toward the bottom on the left, sporting a bow tie.

Published Finger photos are few and far between—by my obsessive tally, this is only the fifth. (I'm not counting the first of eleven Finger photos I uncovered, which I loaned to Alter Ego for issue #84 [3/09]; in 2012, I will reveal the rest of these “new” Finger photos, divided between my book and this blog.)

4/7/11 update: I recently learned that this photo was previously published in, appropriately enough, the 2008 book The DC Vault.


J. L. Bell said...

I'd noticed that remark about Sullivan, Kane, and Finger, and it just didn't sound right to me. Thanks for confirming that many sources say otherwise.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks J.L. Always a pleasure to hear from you.

Anonymous said...

Is this just poor research or deliberate on the part of DC?

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

The story is consistently told differently elsewhere, even within other mainstream DC-sanctioned publications, so I don't feel this was an oversight. I feel, as I stated in the post in so many words, that this was done to misrepresent the reality of the situation because of the legal implications. (I realize this almost throwaway comment alone is not going to give a judge pause, but it couldn't hurt, either.)

Anonymous said...

I got plenty of Batman archives books where people, in the foreword section, mention Bill Finger as the co-creator of Batman. Why would Paul Levitz choose to lie like this is beyond me.

Captain Blog said...

Paul Levitz is a very respected talent and former publisher of the fanzine "Comic Reader" and "Et Cetera". Both of these focused on then-current comic releases and news. Of the copies I have, the professionalism is top-notch so I don't believe his research is lacking.
I would really like to know if higher ups had this changed or reworded.
Levitz always seems to be a man of integrity. I would think he would be offended at a change of his work. (in this manner)
Perhaps this is what he believes to be true, having been at DC for some time and just never thought there was any other version of events. The people he would have questioned may have given him this version of events.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Though I have never met Paul Levitz, from what I've heard, he does indeed seem like a man of integrity. Therefore, I can't explain this wording.