I’ve wanted to draw ‘Bill Finger’ for some time and with 2019 being the 80th anniversary of the first published appearance of Batman, this feels like a good way to kick of the year.
Granted this isn’t my most polished drawing (there are very few available photo’s of Bill Finger and those that can be found aren’t of the best resolution). Well that’s the excuse I’m going with.
Regardless, the man played a monumental role in the creation & implementation of the legend that is Batman & his surrounding world and deserves due tribute.
In brief, cartoonist ‘Bob Kane’ had been tasked with creating a new costumed hero by National Periodical Publications editor ‘Vin Sullivan’ in early 1939, as a follow up to the publisher’s previous year’s break out success ‘Superman’. At his drawing board Kane designed a character that resembled the blond haired, red suited Flash Gordon, complete with eye domino mask and a pair of large Bat wings protruding from his back. He named the character ‘The Bat-man’ and that was that. However, beyond the illustration & name he had nothing else to show Sullivan. Enter ‘Bill Finger’. Finger who wrote comic book stories in the evenings to subsidise an income from his day job of selling shoes was acquainted with Kane, having previously collaborated with the cartoonist as a writer on humour strips such as Rusty & Clip Carson. After showing Finger what he had come up with, Kane appealed to his friend to write the first issue and round out the characterisation. From this point the character that we recognise today took rapid form under Finger’s guidance. Although not an artist himself, Finger advised Kane to bin the garish red body suit in favour of darker tones more befitting a creature of the night, so red became grey. The Bat wings became the famous scalloped cape, then went the domino eye mask and in it’s place the iconic bat eared cowled, which aside from the Bat logo would be the visual element that instantly identified the character. With the design locked down Bill set about writing the first story (The Case of the Chemical Syndicate), and in doing so defined the dark, ominous persona of Batman which he contrasted with his alter ego, the cavalier, millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. Dectective Comics issue 27 saw the character debut and become an instant hit with kids across America. Finger & Kane continued to collaborate on the comic with Finger writing the stories & coming up with further key elements such as Bruce Wayne’s tragic backstory, Robin, the Bat Cave, Batmobile, Gotham City & the term ‘The Dark Knight’ as well as providing extensive input into the creation of villains such as The Joker, Two Face, Catwoman, Penquin. There were others who contributed ideas to those early strips such as ‘Jerry Robinson’ & ‘Gardener Fox’, but it was Bill Finger who did most of the heavy lifting when it came to the construction of one of world’s most beloved & enduring pop culture mythologies. Alas he never lived to see himself officially credited as a creator, dying alone, near penniless and forgotten by the industry in 1974. The history of the comicbook is littered with grim stories of creative folk who never received their just dues, but Bill’s story is particularly aggrieving.
There is however a happy ending to the tale of Bill Finger & Batman (albeit posthumous). As of 2015, following the sterling efforts of his grand-daughter Athena and various other’s (particularly Marc Tyler Nobleman), Bill Finger was finally, officially credited as a creator of Batman. All subsequent product including comics, movies, video games & so on would declare ‘Batman created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger’
So anyway, thank you Bill and rest in peace man.
Pencil on Cartridge Paper