Bob Kane, American (1915 - 1998)

Bob Kane

Bob Kane was born in New York City, on October 24th 1915. His father was a printer at the New York Daily News.

'I was born with a pencil in my hand. I'd doodle on the sidewalks in New York, I'd scribble on walls. On the subway, I'd see an advertisement with the Colgate girl smiling with that beautiful set of ivory teeth, and I'd start blacking the teeth out. I must have been one of the all-time doodle-holics in the early days. I just used to scribble on anything I could get my hands on.'

'When I was 10, I knew I wanted to be a famous cartoonist. When my dad brought home the Sunday comic pages, I used to copy them all practically as good as the cartoonists who created them. In those days, most people didn't know what a cartoonist was. My family did, though. They encouraged me. They certainly didn't give me any flak for wanting to draw. My dad would bring my sketches down to the Daily News and show them to the cartoonists. They'd say, 'Gee, your son has talent. He ought to stick to it.'

Bob placed second place in a drawing contest at the Age of 15. The point of the contest was to discover who could draw characters from a Just Kids comic strip best. The strip was done by Gene Byrne.

'I started selling cartoons when I was about 16. I got $5 a page for a cartoon, which was a lot of money in 1936. After I graduated from high school, I went to work for six months at Max Fleischer Studios, where they had Popeye and Betty Boop. From there I won a scholarship and studied art for around nine months.'

Bob later went to several art schools. First he went to the Commercial Art Studio, then to Cooper Union, and then to the Art Students League. He got his first comic job as a staff artist at Fiction House. His first published comic work was in Wow, What a Magazine #3, in 1936. He also drew many other books/strips, such as Peter Pupp, Hiram Hick, Pluto, and Bobby. Around 1938, he went looking for work at DC comics and left to join them in 1939.

'Comic books were a whole new industry, but they didn't become really popular until DC Comics' Superman hit the market in 1938. I created Batman in 1939, after I was at DC about seven months. So I didn't suffer too long.'

The Superman craze was happening at DC and Bob wanted in on the action. At this time Bob was only making $50 a week, while the creators of Superman were making $800 a week off Superman. So Bob went off to create a hero. He first had an idea for a character when he was 18.

'There were three major influences on Batman. The first was Zorro. As a kid, I was a movie buff. One of my favorites was The Mark of Zorro, with Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Zorro had the dual identity. By day, like Bruce Wayne, he feigned being a bored, foppish count, the son of one of the richest families in Mexico. By night, he became a vigilante. He would disguise himself, wearing a handkerchief mask with the eyes slit out. He exited on a black horse from a cave underneath his home, and that's the inspiration for the Batcave and the Batmobile.'

'The second influence was a Leonardo da Vinci book I had seen. The book had a lot of inventions, including a flying machine. It was a man on a sledlike contraption with huge bat wings. Da Vinci had a quote that went something like, "Your bird will have no model but that of a bat." There it was -- from a book 500 years old!'

'The third inspiration was a silent mystery movie called The Bat, in which the bat was a villain. They had a searchlight in the movie with a bat in the middle, just like my Batsignal. I was always frightened by bats, but I was fascinated with them too, with the evil that they represented.'

'I wanted Bruce Wayne's costume to throw a terrible fear into the denizens of the underworld. If a huge bat came into your apartment, it would scare the hell out of you. I wanted to create a costume that was so awesome that the crooks would be petrified.'

'Batman was very crude at the beginning. He had stiff bat wings stuck behind his shoulders; he looked like a bat, actually. But I showed Vincent Sullivan my first crude sketches of Batman that Monday. He loved it and said, "Okay, let's go!"

Another writer named Bill Finger helped Bob out by creating the Bruce Wayne identity and also Gotham City. Sadly Bill gets little credit for doing so.

Bob sold his Batman story to DC, but kept a copyright interest in the Batman character because of advice given to him by a relative lawyer. Doing so would make him richer than either of the Superman creators over the long haul.

Later Bob created Robin the Boy Wonder to be Batman's side kick. Robin was created for two reasons. One was so the young kids would have someone to identify with, and the second was to give someone for Batman to talk to while out crime fighting. But Robin wasn't so easily accepted inside DC. Bob's boss, Jack Liebowitz, didn't like Robin, but he was convinced to give him a try for one issue. Detective Comics #38 was that try, the issue almost doubled the regular sales of Detective Comics. Needless to say, Robin stayed on.

Batman would get his own title about year after his first appearance. In Batman #1, the Joker and the Catwoman would first appear. Kane's assistant, Jerry Robinson would create the Joker ironically with the help of Bill Finger. Bill supplied a photo of Conrad Veidt, an actor that stared a movie called 'The Man who Laughs'.

'The inspiration for the Joker was a photograph of a German actor, Conrad Veidt, from the movie 'The Man Who Laughs'. The film is derived from a Victor Hugo story about rival Gypsy gangs in France at the turn of the century. Sometimes the gangs would raid each other's camps and slit the mouths of children from ear to ear, so that when the children grew up, their mouths became frozen in a ghastly grin.'

Bob would work on Batman stories in one form or another until the mid '40's, but he insists he worked on the comic up to 1966. Bob was asked to go to Hollywood to help out on a Courageous Cat TV show in the 50's. He was asked back to Hollywood in 1965 to help with the famous Batman TV show.

'In the mid-'60s Batman was campy, in the comic book as well as on TV. I liked the TV series. It was good for the era of pop art. I still like it. The TV show was a farce, but it was still one of the great comedy shows of all time.'

'There are two factions today. There are those that like it campy, with Robin and the puns and the byplay back and forth. And there are the dyed-in-the-wool Batman fans who like it more misterioso.'

In 1969 he would create a cartoon called Cool McCool. He would also start exhibiting paintings around this time and then move to Hollywood by the 70's.

Bob also helped out with the Batman movies as well.

'It's difficult to turn a comic-book hero into a movie. The only yardstick was the TV show. We all agreed that we didn't want to do anything campy. We wanted to make Batman dark and brooding, taking the story back to its roots.'

'At the beginning, Michael Keaton was not my first choice to play Batman. But [Batman director] Tim Burton explained that he was looking for a character who was three-dimensional, real flesh and blood. We didn't want a superhunk. Michael Keaton has an edge about him. We knew we had a Joker who could blow the screen apart. We had to get a strong actor who could stand up to Jack Nicholson. Michael Keaton has a maniacal quality that Nicholson has, the same craziness going on in the eyes.'

'The Batman sequel will come as surely as I'm talking to you, probably in '90 or '91. They're going to rush one out, because they want to tear the sets down in Pinewood Studios, outside London. They'll need the space for something else if we wait too long.'

'Some people expected the movie to fall on its face because of the hype. We worried about that. Now the whole Batmania thing is just unbelievable to me. We had a Batmania in '66 with the TV series, but this is even bigger. This movie is blowing through the rooftop.'
In 1966, Kane retired from DC Comics, choosing to focus on fine art.[29] As Kane's comic-book work tapered off in the 1960s, he parlayed his Batman status into minor celebrity. He enjoyed a post-comics career in TV animation, creating the characters Courageous Cat and Cool McCool, and as a painter showed his work in art galleries, although some of these paintings were produced by ghost artists.[30] DC Comics named Kane in 1985 as one of the honorees in the company's 50th anniversary publication Fifty Who Made DC Great.[31] In 1989, Kane published the autobiography Batman and Me, with a second volume Batman and Me, The Saga Continues, in 1996.

Kane worked as a consultant on the 1989 movie Batman and its two subsequent sequels with directors Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher.

Stan Lee interviewed Kane in the documentary series The Comic Book Greats.

Kane was inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame and the WIll Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame during his lifetime.

Kane died on November 3, 1998, from natural causes, leaving behind his wife, Elizabeth Sanders (Kane), an actress who appeared in three Batman films; and daughter Deborah Majeski. Kane is buried at Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California

Kane's work is still visible to the public, housed in collections such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City and St. John's University in Jamaica, New York.

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