Thursday, 6 August 2009

similar to the situation i described yesterday re my old pal Mike Docherty, here's another example of the world getting smaller all the time. When I was younger still, just finishing primary school, I discovered old early 1950s Batman stories in a handful of little paperback books published in black and white (by Signet in the US, Four-Square in Britain) at the time of the Batman TV show. They were reprinted several times in 1966 and my copies are dated October, so I would have got them fresh off the shelves close to that date. They were probably the first paperback books I bought with my own money, and it would have taken a great deal of conspiracy among the people in my head to give myself permission to take such a daring step. I lovingly defaced many of the pages with crayolas.

Even then I figured there had to be more than one 'Bob Kane,' in the same way that Walt Disney was a whole mob of people, though that was the only 'signature' on these stories. Dick Sprang was obviously a distinct personality though I don't think I had a name for him for another couple of years. This was all very abstract to me at the time, but there was certainly a suspicion that something was going on; I knew all about artists and 'inkers' from the credited Marvel comics I had been buying, and I had pored over Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes in my local library. Once I ascribed a number of the stories to Sprang or 'artist B' (Kane being 'A"), there still seemed to be two distinct styles among what was left. They remained unnamed people to me for many years afterwards, though I felt I knew them as friends in my hyperactive imagination. I once got in an argument with a small press pal circa '84 who insisted that a certain Penguin story was Sprang's work. I said, 'no, look at all these tiny scurrying little figures. That's 'artist D,' who actually happens to be my favourite. He looked at me like I was referencing some archeological tome. In 1999 I drew this little panel in After the Snooter:


A couple of years after drawing it I actually got to meet Lew Sayre Schwartz. After I wrote this article online, somebody emailed and put me in touch with him. I verified by phone and fax (I had collected many other stories illustrated by him in the interim) that I had correctly identified the artistic personality at work. It was a thrilling couple of hour-long sessions during which Lew kept worrying about my phone bill. Around that time he had discovered that DC was reprinting some of his old stories, as they had contacted him about forwarding some royalties. I warned him to watch out for the fact that they were still misattributing many of the stories, but that it would probably balance out as for every one of his they gave to Kane, there would be one of Moldoff's they gave to Schwartz and in the final analyisis he probably wouldn't lose out. Moldoff was 'artist C' though I wasn't 100% sure he wasn't actually Kane; it didn't look like the then current 1966 Kane who drew Poison Ivy at any rate, though I was late in figuring out that was Moldoff too, still ghosting for Kane after 12 years. Recalling my blindness on that one still annoys me. In contrast to Sprang, who was a Kane ghost hired by the publisher, DC Comics, Lew was Kane's personal 'ghost' on this stuff. Kane would proprietorially tighten the figures of Batman and Robin a little before sending it in to the publisher, with the understanding being that he'd done it all himself (The way the Great Comic Book Database characterizes the working relationship tends to imply that Kane drew the figures and Schwartz filled in the rest of the pictures around them, which both my eye and Schwartz himself tell me was not the case). All the stories would then be signed 'Bob Kane', presumably by the letterer, and then inked by Charlie Paris (usually), whose job it was to make it look like it all came out of the same ink bottle, as he expressed it. 'Inking' is often misunderstood by folk outside of the comic book business, to be a kind of 'tracing' activity. Back then the inker was often a particularly slick artist who was trusted with superimposing the house style over the work of a number of artists, giving consistency to all the parts (before I figured this out it had baffled me that Batman's head always looked consistent even though there were obviously different artists drawing the pages) (an aside: I once hired an assistant for a short term job who laid down at the outset that he didn't want to be 'just an inker.' I informed him, to his dismay, that I wouldn't trust him with the 'inking.')
Here's a great Lew Schwartz splash page from Batman #52, Feb 1950. This is from a coverless copy in my possession. Lew confirmed he drew it and was especially pleased I'd picked this one to run by him as he remembered drawing his wife, Barb, into the bottom left hand corner. (click for a satisfyingly large version)


Here's a favourite Lew Schwartz moment from The Joker's Journal, Detective Comics #193, March 1953:


Lew was at the San Diego con in 2002 and I interviewed him on a panel there, having already done the honours in my own Egomania magazine and proved myself the man for the job. A couple of years later I got the chance to ( co-)write and draw a Batman comic book myself and I dedicated it to Lew (these days we get to be 'authorial' and dedicate our comic books). Now, on the whole I detest the present day version of the character. he is a thuggish brute. My Batman was an old fashioned thing set in 1939, before the MTV age, when millionaires still tried to have nice manners.


Batman was invited to join a London club of gentlemen who wear animal masks:


Who'd have thought they'd trust me with a Batman book? Who'd have thought I'd meet the guy who put the notion in my head thirty-eight years before? He was a special guest at the San Diego Comic Convention this year but I wasn't there, so I missed "... that great panel we did on the Golden Age of Batman with Jerry Robinson, Sheldon Moldoff and Lew Schwartz. If you're interested in the history of comics, it doesn't get any more historical than that." (Mark Evanier... I wonder if somebody taped it.) (I wrote about Jerry Robinson at length here, for those following all of these names)
My good friend Pam Noles made sure Lew got a copy of Leotard and took this photo:


It's funny how things turn out.

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7 Comments:

Blogger layne said...

Recordings of several 2009 Comic-Con panels have been posted here, though the year is wrong. While none of the file descriptions mention Schartz, he may have participated in the Robinson and Moldoff pieces. Perhaps the proprietor of the website could help you out.

6 August 2009 12:49:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting article from the NY Times about a Tarzon show in Paris that you may enjoy:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/06/arts/design/06abroad.html?ref=global-home

Ben Smith

6 August 2009 4:51:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous wayne beamer said...

Ed,

Having a Sunday dinner with Pam and Lew again was the only good reason to be in SD...

Wayne

7 August 2009 3:21:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger robsalk said...

It was indeed a great panel. A highlight was Moldoff, who, after saying the Bob Kane was due his props for creating "the greatest comic book superhero ever," then proceeded to describe Kane as "a very weird individual" and "the personification of evil." Never having met Kane, I can't say myself, but there was no disagreement from the others on the panel or from Evanier.

7 August 2009 4:50:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Thanks, Rob. That's the kind of thing I want to hear. It would certainly have been an interesting event. Unlike Sprang and Mooney and Burnley, who drew Batman stories through head office (Robinson too in the later part of his Batman relationship) all three of the panelists were Kane's personally hired assistants/ghosts; Robinson '40-'43, Schwartz '47-'53 and Moldoff '54-'66. In the missing portion, '43-'46 Kane wasn't drawing for the comic books but was doing the Batman daily newspaper strip and as far as we can ascertain, pencilling it all himself (reprinted in three volumes by KSP in the '90s... and a fourth for the color sundays, which were mostly Jack Burnleys' ghosting)... the character (and its major supporting characters) is undeniably a great cartoon creation, with the kind of longevity that great old song standards have, allowing it to be interpreted anew over and over, the latest of interest being Ledger's acting of the Joker.
who emceed the panel? Mark Waid? Mark Evanier? None of the Marks?

7 August 2009 5:16:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Jamie Coville said...

It was Mark Evanier.

I kinda regret not being there to record the panel, but it overlapped with the Spotlight on Dwayne McDuffie panel. Having conversed with him online for years I really wanted to meet him last year but missed him so I made sure to catch him this time.

It's the one thing about Comic-con that makes me pull out my hair, picking and choosing which panels to attend. I always have to make hard sacrifices.

7 August 2009 10:09:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger robsalk said...

Evanier MC'd the panel. Also, Moldoff claimed to have worked on the second or third Batman story, before Robinson arrived, which made him Kane's first ghost. He claimed to have had the original idea of giving Batman a teen sidekick, which Kane rejected then later claimed was his own. When Moldoff reported this to Jack Liebowitz at DC, he said that Liebowitz told him that "they had had some problems with Bob's plagiarism" and would take action, but Moldoff said it wasn't a big deal. He soon quit to start doing Hawkman. He also said he never met or even heard of Bill Finger until much, much later. All this was news to me.

Lew didn't have much to say relative to the others, and his mic was not functioning very well so it was hard to hear. Batton Lash moderated his showcase panel (I did not attend). I'm sure Bat could give you a rundown if you contact him.

Whatever you can say about Comic-Con these days, there's nowhere else to hear from two people who worked on Batman in 1939.

8 August 2009 11:15:00 am GMT-5  

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