Monday, August 3, 2015

The Bill Finger/George Roussos issue

As of this writing, the Wikipedia entry for Bill Finger includes this quotation from George Roussos, a comic book inker and colorist who began working in the Golden Age: “Bob Kane had ideas while Bill sort of organized them” (source cited: “Interviews with George Roussos,” Batman: The Dark Knight Archives, Volume 2, DC Comics, 1997).

I am confident that Roussos was well-intentioned. But it does not sound like he was as familiar with the reality of the working relationship between Bill and Bob as one might think.

Bizarrely, Roussos’s statement contradicts the accounts of nearly every other comics industry professional who also knew Bill and Bob personally as well as some DC-sanctioned statements and published accounts by writers including Jim Steranko, Les Daniels, Jim McLauchlin, and Jerry Bails.

I interviewed every key Batman-related creator who was still alive as of 2006. None claimed Bob was the idea man (in fact some vehemently claimed the opposite), none had a thing to gain by defending Bill, and at least two had something to lose (
Jerry Robinson was still a DC Comics consultant at the time, Arnold Drake had been negotiating terms over characters he had created). Even Bob admitted that Bill was a “boy wonder” of ideas (Bob’s 1989 autobiography Batman & Me, page 119)—but by then, Bill was already safely dead.

Bill not only wrote 1,500 stories over 25 years but also designed Batman’s costume, wrote the first appearances of Robin/Joker/Catwoman/many more, built the bat-motif, named “Gotham City” and “Bruce Wayne,” and nicknamed Batman “the Dark Knight.” Bob did not write a single Batman story in his lifetime, and the only major villain more than just Bob credits Bob with creating is Two-Face.

How is this Bill organizing Bob’s ideas?

Even the rest of Bill’s Wikipedia entry undermines the notion that Bill merely “sort of organized” Bob’s ideas.

As such, I feel Roussos’s statement does not belong in that entry. But my request to remove it was overruled. Some have presumed I attempted this because I am unconditionally pro-Bill and anti-Kane. No, I did it because I am a researcher of exacting standards. No matter the subject, I would not give this kind of weight to a single account of one truth over numerous other accounts of a different truth when all accounts are created equal (i.e. all were firsthand witnesses to Bill and Bob).

Like anyone, Roussos is entitled to an opinion. But I do not interpret Roussos’s recollection as a thought-out statement For The Record. I believe it was instead a quick, casual comment that he would probably rephrase if given the chance.

I realize Roussos’s quotation does not state that Bob had all the ideas. And I am not disputing Bob had the better business advice to lock in rights for himself. But I don’t define the legacy of a fictional character in terms of the commerce behind it. I define it on artistic merit.

I feel it is irresponsible to include a quotation as misleading as Roussos’s in the only source many people read to learn about Bill.

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