Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Mark Evanier on Bob Kane’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star

Longtime comics writer and ambassador Mark Evanier has weighed in on the Hollywood Walk of Fame star that Bob Kane will be getting.

Mark and Marc, 2012

His response (as always, measured and articulate) was posted on the Comics History Exchange, a Facebook page for scholarly discussions about, well, what it says.

After reading some of the responses there, I felt some key points had not yet been addressed so I chimed in:

For those who don’t know, I wrote the first book on Bill Finger. That doesn’t mean I know the most, but I know this:

We’ve all heard that Bob’s contract with DC states that Bob must be credited as sole creator. However, since no one outside of DC execs has seen the infamous Bob contract, the only way we know this is from Bob himself…who was not known for his honesty. What if the contract does not say that?

Either way, Bill’s role on Batman is, I don’t need to tell this crowd, beyond extensive. Name one creative element that came from Bob, aside from Two-Face. (Bob did not write a single Batman story in his life.) That 75th anniversary Batman poster DC produced for comics shops? Bill is the driving force (if not full-on creator) of the first nine milestones it includes, and had a hand in the first fourteen.

Yes, Bill got paid a page rate. Yes, Bill did not stick up for himself hard enough (but he did speak up on at least two occasions that my book cites).

However, this does not excuse Bob’s behavior. I forgive Bob for not crediting Bill in the 1940s, an era in which (as Mark Evanier notes) this was common. But I do not forgive Bob for his response to Bill’s professional, non-confrontational statements in 1965 (after 25 years of anonymity to the public) in which he (Bill) revealed what his contribution was on Batman without attacking Bob to do so. Bob’s response: Bill is lying (when the truth was the reverse).

And though I am glad Bob included that “unsung hero/deserves his name on Batman” line in his autobiography (thanks to Thomas Andrae), he did not follow through on his attempt at redemption—and in fact backpedaled with the appalling grandstanding on his gravestone.

It is one thing to act in accordance with the time (1939). It is another to humiliate and discredit a onetime friend (1965). Bob had the chance to earn a respectable legacy, but in perpetuating the “lone creator myth” even unto death, failed to do so.

In 1975, Jay Emmett, Executive VP of Warner Communications, said of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster: “Legally, nothing has to be done. Morally, I think something should be done, and we will do it out of compassion.”

Where have you gone, Jay Emmett?

Justice has no expiration date.

P.S. I made and shared my Bill star the day after the announcement

Before seeing this, the talented Xum Yukinori made a more accomplished one:

We both encourage anyone to share them on behalf of Bill.

2/22/22 addendum: Several years after Bill the Boy Wonder was published, I realized I could not trace the original source for the oft-cited allegation that Bob Kane’s contract included that he and he alone be credited as the creator of Batman. (Sure sounds like him, but still need proof.) Today I stumbled upon a possible answer that I first saw years ago, but did not reflect on deeply at the time. 

In a 1966 issue of fan publication Batmania that covered a comic convention called Con-Cave that was held that summer, Tom Fagan paraphrased no less an authority than legendary editor Julius Schwartz (who appeared on a panel) as saying that Bob’s contract with National (now DC Comics) might stipulate that Bob’s name appear on Batman stories because Bob was the originator. (Note that Fagan did not quote Schwartz as saying Bob’s name alone must appear, but I infer that is what Schwartz meant even if he didn’t explicitly say it or if Fagan didn’t accurately quote it.) Schwartz said that checking the contract could confirm or deny this—but obviously that didn’t happen at the con (if ever, as far as the fans have heard). 

I can’t imagine that this topic would have come up publicly much before this incident; the first “official” con (i.e. the first con where pros participated) was only the year before. But again, I can’t say with certainty that this is where the infamous claim took root…or if it’s true.

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