This year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego isn’t just the host of the industry’s current pick of the crop; some of the original men behind DC Comics’ Caped Crusader’s first adventures gathered to tell their own stories of working with the Batman and his creator, Bob Kane.
For Jerry Robinson, it began with a game of tennis.
“The year I graduated high school, I intended to be a journalist,” Robinson said. He had sent his application to three of the schools for journalism in the country and was supporting himself by pulling an ice cream cart.
Already around 98 pounds, Robinson lost enough weight that his mother became worried about him and told him to save up $25 and take a trip to the country to fatten back up. On the first day of his trip, he was playing tennis while wearing a jacket decorated by his own art.
“I didn’t think of myself as an artist at that time,” said Robinson.
The drawings caught the attention of a strange man who walked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder, asking who drew them.
“I thought I was going to be arrested or something.”
As it turns out, the man interested in his jacket was Bob Kane, who immediately offered him a job in New York as his assistant. Columbia being one of the schools he had applied to, Robinson changed his plans and studied journalism at Columbia while moonlighting on Batman.
Sheldon Muldoff, who spent years secretly (or not so secretly) ghost drawing for Kane, had his own stories about Kane and their relationship.
Muldoff told the audience that while working for Kane, he would frequently end up staying late at the Kane household and staying for dinner with his family. Muldoff said that Kane was treated like a king by his family. While he was treated to a small piece of hamburger, Kane ate steak.
One night Muldoff finally came out and asked Kane to split his steak with him.
“Bob laughed and said, ‘That’s very funny,’ and that’s all it meant to him.”
Kane would later ask Muldoff to work on an ongoing project with him, saying that they would split the $150 payments in half. Muldoff worked for $75 until one night during a dinner with Kane’s family, Kane’s wife mentioned that the actual payments they were receiving were $300. Kane’s only response to being caught cheating was to tell his wife that she had a big mouth. Kane did pay Muldoff the money he was owed and made up with him.
Years later, Kane invited Muldoff to have lunch with him. When they had finished eating, Kane explained that he had forgotten his wallet. Muldoff said that he had money in his car and told Kane to wait at the table while he went to get it.
“That was the last time I ever saw him.”
Muldoff’s ghost drawing wasn’t a sore issue for him. He didn’t mind not receiving the credit for the work he did so long as it put food on the table.
“It’s in the script and I’m just doing my job,” he said about tasks such as creating the design for Bat-Mite.
The senior panelists’ stories of the industry during the birth of the silver age kept the audience laughing throughout the panel. One by one they told their tales of ghost drawing, clown portraits, and Dick Tracy, but as much as the panel seemed like a roast, there was always a lot of respect for Kane, who was responsible for introducing most of the panelists to the industry.
“He did introduce me there, and I became very involved,” said Arnold Drake, creator of the Doom Patrol. “About the Doom Patrol, I take special pride in the fact that Beast Boy, 45 years after I created him, is a #1 animated star today.”
After the stories were finished the Q&A began, which eventually led to the panelists discussing their views of comics as an art form, comparing them to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
This discussion was followed by a surprise announcement that Arnold Drake’s “picture novel,” “It Rhymes With Lust,” one of the first graphic novels in North America, is being reprinted by Dark Horse comics.