The Batman Ghost Artists of Bob Kane

The Batman Ghost Artists of Bob Kane

DC Comics

The concept of the “ghost artist” is one that has a long history in the world of comics. To this very day, many of the world's most popular comic strips do not openly credit the artists who actually draw the strip. If you were to ask the makers of the strip, they would be glad to tell you the name of the artist, so it is not a guarded secret or anything like that, but they also do not openly credit the artist, as it is part of the illusion that the famous creator of the strip still does everything with the strip. So when the comic book industry began in the 1930s, spinning out of the world of comic strips, that philosophy was followed. However, in the case of Bob Kane and the first thirty years worth of Batman comics, the idea of “ghost artists” was taken to another extreme. 

The early artwork for Batman

Like many artists of his generation, Bob Kane would swipe poses and panel layouts from other popular artists. Hal Foster, the artist on Tarzan, was likely the most swiped artist in comics during the 1930s. Edgar Rice Burroughs/DC Comics

 Early in the history of Batman, Bob Kane legitimately drew every Batman story (even if he liberally used the work of other artists as “inspiration” for his artwork). As the strip became more popular, he hired an assistant, Jerry Robinson. Robinson became Kane's inker on the Batman stories (an inker essentially embellishes the pencil drawings of the first artist, called the penciler) and Robinson would draw the backgrounds in the panels. As Batman was given a second comic book series in 1940, a third artist, George Roussos, was then hired to take over the artwork in the background of the panels. So Kane would pencil in the main figures in a panel, Robinson would ink Kane (and also give his own input for the design of characters) and then Roussos would give the panel a background (Roussos would pencil and ink the background). This sort of “assembly line” system allowed the three artists to produce a great deal of artwork (working almost entirely with writer Bill Finger), which was good, because National Comics (the publishers of Batman, who now go by the name DC Comics) was asking for a lot of Batman content. One story every month in Detective Comics and four stories every three months in Batman. All of the artwork, though, was credited to Batman's “creator,” Bob Kane (more on Kane's status as Batman's creator here). In fact, Kane was the only one who got any credit. That was normal for the time, though, as Jerry Siegel and Jerry Shuster also got credited on all Superman comics, despite Shuster's artistic output being very low.

Bob Kane first gains ghost artists from National Comics

Before becoming the first penciler other than Bob Kane to draw Batman, Ray drew one of the most famous Batman covers. DC Comics

While Finger, Robinson and Roussos initially worked directly for Kane, very soon National Comics wooed them away to work for National directly. They still did the Batman comics, of course, but they would also work on other stories for National. This created a need for other artists to draw Batman stories. Fred Ray, who already had become the cover artist on the Batman comic book series (including one of the greatest Batman covers ever), was the first artist to work on a story without Bob Kane in 1942's Batman #10. In 1943, Kane stopped drawing the Batman comic books entirely as National had launched a Batman comic strip. At the time, drawing a comic strip was much more prestigious than drawing a comic book, so Kane dedicated himself solely to the Batman comic strip. So Batman and Detective Comics continued with artwork from Ray, Jack Burnley, Dick Sprang and Win Mortimer. As per Kane's arrangement with National, though, all of that artwork would still be credited to Kane.  

Kane gains his first personal ghost artist

Lew Schwartz was Bob Kane's ghost artist from 1946-1953. While on the title, Schwartz co-created the popular villain, Deadshot. DC Comics

When the Batman comic strip ended in 1946, Kane returned to the comic books but soon found himself uninterested in the work. His contract with DC Comics guaranteed him steady work, but he soon decided to outsource that work to other artists. So there soon became an interesting dichtomy in the Batman comics. All of the work was still being credited to Kane, but roughly half of the artwork was done by artists hired by National and half was done by “Bob Kane,” which was not actually Kane.

His first ghost artist was Lew Schwartz. With Schwartz, at least, Kane would still re-work the Batman and Robin figures within the story, so that they looked like they were drawn by him. Everything else was by Schwartz. Schwartz worked with Kane from late 1946 through 1953.  

Kane gains his longest-lasting ghost artist

Sheldon Moldoff was Bob Kane's ghost artist for fourteen years, While there, he helped create many notable characters, like Poison Ivy. DC Comics

In 1953, when Lew Schwartz finally got sick of working with Kane, Sheldon Moldoff took over. Moldoff had actually done some background work on some of the earliest Batman stories (before George Roussos was hired). Amusingly, Moldoff worked for National, as well, so he would occasionally be assigned Batman stories by National on top of the stories he was already drawing for them as “Bob Kane.” Schwartz worked as Kane's ghost until 1967, an amazing fourteen year run. At that point, Batman editor Julius Schwartz had National rework Kane's contract, so that Kane would still get paid for his role as Batman's creator, but he would no longer have to provide any artwork for the series. This allowed Schwartz to finally be able to give Batman and Detective Comics the artwork that he wanted to see in both titles (a reworking of the Kane deal earlier in the 1960s had given Schwartz more freedom with the depiction of Batman). Part of the deal also allowed for other artists to be credited for their work, and Schwartz made a point to properly credit past artists when their worked was reprinted, as well.

Kane  never admitted publicly to not drawing the work himself. Even as late as 1965 he was trying to convince people he was still drawing Batman comics regularly, when he hadn't for nearly twenty years at that point!