Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Sad Tale of Bill Finger Continues

Check out this article at Bleeding Cool. 

 The relevant section, a statement from Athena Finger, Bill Finger's Granddaughter:
75 years of Batman! No one could have predicted the longevity and the continued relevance of this comic book hero that has become a cultural icon when my grandfather, Bill Finger, collaborated with Bob Kane back in 1939. My grandfather has never been properly credited as the co-creator of Batman although was an open secret in the comic book industry and is widely known now. It is now my time to come out of the shadows and speak up and end 75 years of exploitation of my grandfather, whose biggest flaw was his inability to defend his extraordinary talent. Due to what I feel is continued mistreatment of a true artist, I am currently exploring our rights and considering how best to establish the recognition that my grandfather deserves.

I'm sure this will lead to another round of "oh, look at how evil DC Comics is!" With our kneejerk vilification of any corporate entity.

This issue isn't about DC - it's about Bob Kane and his estate.

DC has been sending, admittedly modest in relation to the value of Batman as a property, checks to the Finger heirs for years. There's even an interesting story of how a lover of Finger's now-deceased son was receiving checks from DC, instead of Kane's granddaughter, the rightful heir. When Finger biographer Marc Tyler Nobleman brought this to DC's attention, they rectified the situation quickly. At his San Diego Comic-Con presentation in 2012, Nobleman specifically pointed out that DC were not the bad guys in this story.

Finger is denied his rightful credit because of the contracts that Bob Kane, and his estate, have with DC Comics. Aside from the quote in his "autobiography" (Kane didn't really even draw 90%, and that's being generous, of what's credited to him, I doubt he wrote a book), Kane NEVER admitted Finger's central role (likely greater than Kane's) in the creation of the Batman mythos. During the 60's he even wrote personal responses, lashing out at anyone who suggested Finger's contribution.

I am almost certain that if the powers that be at DC could legally name Bill Finger Batman's co-creator, even just to set the record straight, leaving aside the money (which again, is really about Kane's contract - not DC welching), I honestly believe they would. Every creator, editor, etc, etc, I've ever heard speak on this issue knows EXACTLY what happened and how Kane, via his contact with National/DC, secured for himself sole credit, and the financial benefits thereof, for perpetuity. That doesn't mean they can speak openly about it, as legal matters often go.

Kane clearly benefited from coming after Siegel and Schuster, and seeing the vast monies that Superman was bringing in. He, or his father, was smart enough to secure a legally binding agreement with National/DC that paid off for him handsomely. Would that Siegel and Schuster had gotten such advice.

This also allowed Bob to keep Finger, and the multiple other "ghost" writers and artists he employed, from sharing that windfall. It may seem Machiavellian to our modern eyes, but that was the way cartooning worked in those days. Comic strips were often written and drawn by underlings in the paid employ of the person who's name actually graced the newsprint page. All the greats, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, had "studios" to accomplish the massive amounts of work they would undertake in order to make actual money. The difference, really, is that Bob Kane, reportedly, rarely drew or wrote anything himself.

In 2006, at the San Diego Comic-Con, I had the good fortune to witness a "Golden Age Batman" panel that brought a lot of these creators together. Their differing responses to working for Kane were illuminating, Shelly Moldoff, for instance, was very upfront about who Kane was, what he did, or didn't, actually do, but also felt that Bob had lived up to the agreements they had. This seemed to upset Jerry Robinson, who had long felt Kane had kept him from proper recognition as, at least, the co-creator of characters like Robin and The Joker. It was a lovely panel to attend, but it did leave me with one overriding impression...

Bob Kane was mainly interested in Bob Kane, and making sure that Bob Kane got as much money, attention and fame as he could. Bob Kane made a great deal for himself, and he enjoyed the fruits of his legal foresight. He also guarded his position jealously. You really can't deny it, and I see fewer and fewer Kane apologists as time goes on.

Let's take another look at Kane's quote about Finger from Batman and Me:
Now that my long-time friend and collaborator is gone, I must admit that Bill never received the fame and recognition he deserved. He was an unsung hero…. I often tell my wife, if I could go back fifteen years, before he died, I’d like to say, ‘I’ll put your name on it now. You deserve it.
Yes, he does, and perhaps Kane's widow, Elizabeth Sanders, might remember those times (if they actually happened, frankly) and extend this courtesy to the memory and heirs of Bill Finger. She's the one who can do it, not DC Comics. So, while we can celebrate the legacy that Bill Finger left us, and bemoan the injustice of his lack of credit, let us not forget that DC Comics has already gone beyond the compensation they were legally required to provide (which was nothing). What they cannot legally give, and it's probably the most important, the most meaningful, gesture, is credit. Only Bob Kane's estate can do that...

...And they don't seem to want to.

*I would've provided more pictures of Bill Finger, but very few actually seem to exist.

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