Shining A New Light On An Iconic Comic Creation
Rik Worth is a journalist who has covered comics and culture for the past few years but The Creators of Batman: Bob, Bill And The Dark Knight is his first book. Tripwire’s editor-in-chief Joel Meadows spoke to him to find out more…
TRIPWIRE: The story of the creation of Batman is such a familiar one now. How did you find something new to say about his genesis and creation?
RIK WORTH: That was tough. Even now there are conflicting stories about who did what and when, so by trying to be honest and fair, I couldn’t just pick one line and say ‘this is how it happened’. Instead, I wanted to look at why there are so many contradictions. As much as it’s about Batman, it’s also a mini-dual biography of Bill Finger and Bob Kane. I wanted to know what psychology lead the to creating him, and then what kind of fallout he had on their lives and what effect they had on the lives of one another.
TW: The story about how Finger and Robinson were originally treated by Kane and how the truth eventually came out has become a well-know one now. How much did you feel you owed the families of them to shine the spotlight on Finger and Robinson in the book?
RW: As much as I could, I tried to remove any sympathies. Going into it, the narrative I had was that Bob Kane was a villain who exploited the poor Bill Finger. But that is an easy story to accept without scrutiny: it’s comfortable. Of course parts of that narrative were confirmed, but I didn’t want to be a campaigner from the start. It’s pretentious but I really wanted to find some truth, warts and all, for both parties. That meant not just looking at what Kane did to, and for, Finger but what Finger did and how he really felt about Kane and comics in general.
A lot of people will disagree, but ultimately, being acknowledged and wealthy and famous for creating Batman mattered a lot less to me that what Finger and particularly Robinson had: respect and talent. It’s one of the key themes in the book. How was Kane, who was arguably a hack, able to get so far, while Finger, who had talent and what should have been a great career beyond Batman, squandered his chance?
TW: You have worked as a journalist but this is your first book. How much trepidation did you feel writing something long-form like this?
RW: A lot. I had to break it down and imagine it as 10 long reads or 70 articles, as if being asked to do something like that is any easier. Then you factor in your style and tone and audience and all those things you get used to thinking about in terms of 800 to 2000 words. You have to ask questions like ‘how much of myself can I put into this with being distracting or worse annoying?’
TW: And what are the pros and cons of writing journalism compared with a book project like this?
RW: Well, with regular journalism, you can get in and get out pretty quickly. It’s somehow easier to spot the important facts of the story and get to the summary. With a book you have to ask: ‘does this matter?’. For instance, I wanted regular readers who maybe aren’t comics fans to pick this book up, so how deep do I go in terms of issue numbers, artists, dates, industry trends, etc. Those things can really bore a reader to death. At the same time, you don’t want to miss anything important for the readers who love the comics or bore them with oversimplified explanations. Personally, I love comics history when it gets nice and dry, that’s the good stuff, but I imagine having to read it out to a more general audience and watching their faces drop as I delve into the work of someone they couldn’t care less about.
The downside is the exact opposite. If I had to condense this story down to 2,000 words, firstly, it would be to fall back into the easy narrative of Kane = baddie, Finger = victim. On top of that, you don’t have that room to explore topics like Robinson’s relationship with Finger, with Finger starting out as Robinsons guide into the cultural scene in New York, then Robinson becoming one of Finger’s champions. The extra space allows you to create a much broader picture and ultimately reframe some of the presumptions you might have going into the book.
TW: The Creators Of Batman has been published by White Owl. What made this publisher the right choice for this book?
RW: My involvement with White Owl was just lucky really. I’d seen they were looking for someone to write a history of the Beano. I pitched, failed and gave up. But a great games journalist by the name of Ben Sledge got wind that they were looking for more comics stuff, specifically Batman-based, and off went my next pitch.
White Owl is a small publishers in the North (where I live) and they seem to taking chances on lots of first-time authors, so I thought ‘why not?’ They had recently started doing a bunch of culture books and I had a preview copy of The Magic of Terry Pratchett by Marc Burrows, which looked great, so I felt I was in good hands. They’ve also just released Stan Lee: How Marvel Changed the World by Adrian Mackinder, so their catalogue is getting pretty comics heavy.
TW: How much research did this book involve before you wrote it?
RW: Quite a lot. I spent a lot of time, and not a small amount of my advance sourcing articles and books that might have just a few lines about Kane or Finger. Anything to build a bigger picture of who they were and what was going on behind the scenes. Luckily, a fantastic researcher in America by the name of Marc Tyler Nobleman had constructed quite a lot of Bill Finger’s life and was happy for me to pull from that. But once I created an outline, I ended up going down further avenues while I was writing. These little pockets of history would surface and mean I’d have to delve into something I didn’t expect to, like for example, murky 1960 Italian B-movies. Getting that section in order required quite a bit of extra reading, mostly because they were insanely shoddy, fly-by-night productions.
TW: And how many first-hand interviews were you able to conduct as many of the principle players here are no longer with us?
RW: Sadly not many at all for the obvious reasons. A lot of the principle sources are long since gone and their contemporaries are very old or impossible to track down. So, I had to get in touch with secondary sources: people who interviewed people or had collections of correspondence. Writing it felt a lot more like archeology than journalism – digging up old material, cross referencing it and trying to put it into some historical context to get to the heart of what these men might be thinking or feeling.
TW: How would you describe The Creators of Batman: Bob, Bill and The Dark Knight in one sentence?
RW: It’s an attempt to understand that the comics business was built on creativity, ambition and sheer luck but at the end of the day it’s still a business, and business is brutal.
The Creators of Batman: Bob, Bill and The Dark Knight by Rik Worth is out now from White Owl
Follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/RikWorth