February 8, 1914
Denver, Colorado, U.S.
|Died||January 18, 1974
Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S.
|Batman, Detective Comics, Green Lantern|
|Awards||Jack Kirby Hall of Fame, 1994
Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame, 1999
Milton "Bill" Finger (February 8, 1914 – January 18, 1974) was an American comic strip and comic book writer best known as the uncredited co-creator, with Bob Kane, of the DC Comics character Batman, as well as the co-architect of the series' development. Years after Finger's death, Kane acknowledged his contributions.
Finger also wrote many of the original 1940s Green Lantern stories and would go on to contribute to the development of numerous comic book series.
He was posthumously inducted into the comic book industry's Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1999. His name provided the basis for the Bill Finger Award, founded by Jerry Robinson and presented annually at the San Diego Comic-Con International to honor excellence in comic book writing.
Early life and career
Bill Finger was born in Denver, Colorado, to a Jewish family. His father, Louis Finger (b. 1890, Austria), emigrated to the U.S. in 1907. His mother Tessie (b. circa 1893, New York City) also gave birth to Bill Finger's sisters, Emily and Gilda. The family moved to The Bronx, New York City, where during the Great Depression Louis Finger was forced to close his tailor shop.
Finger graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in The Bronx in 1933. An aspiring writer and a part-time shoe salesman, he joined Bob Kane's nascent studio in 1938 after having met Kane, a fellow DeWitt Clinton alumnus, at a party; Kane later offered him a job ghost writing the strips Rusty and Clip Carson.
Early the following year, National Comics' success with the seminal superhero Superman in Action Comics prompted editors to scramble for similar heroes. In response, Kane conceived "the Bat-Man". Finger recalled that Kane
...had an idea for a character called 'Batman', and he'd like me to see the drawings. I went over to Kane's, and he had drawn a character who looked very much like Superman with kind of ... reddish tights, I believe, with boots ... no gloves, no gauntlets ... with a small domino mask, swinging on a rope. He had two stiff wings that were sticking out, looking like bat wings. And under it was a big sign ... BATMAN.
Finger offered such suggestions as giving the character a cowl instead of the domino mask, a cape instead of wings, adding gloves, and removing the red sections from the original costume. He later said his suggestions were influenced by Lee Falk's popular The Phantom, a syndicated newspaper comic strip character with which Kane was familiar as well, and that he devised the name Bruce Wayne for the character's secret identity. As Finger described, "Bruce Wayne's first name came from Robert Bruce, the Scottish patriot. Wayne, being a playboy, was a man of gentry. I searched for a name that would suggest colonialism. I tried Adams, Hancock ... then I thought of Mad Anthony Wayne." Kane decades later in his autobiography described Finger as "a contributing force on Batman right from the beginning... I made Batman a superhero-vigilante when I first created him. Bill turned him into a scientific detective." Finger biographer Marc Tyler Nobleman described, "Bob [Kane] showed Bat-Man to [editor] Vin [Sullivan] — without Bill. Vin promptly wanted to run Bat-Man, and Bob negotiated a deal — without including Bill."
Finger wrote both the initial script for Batman's debut in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939) and the character's second appearance, while Kane provided art. Batman proved a breakout hit, and Finger went on to write many of the early Batman stories, including making major contributions to the character of the Joker as well as other major Batman villains. Batman background artist and letterer George Roussos recalled that,
What was good about Bill was that whenever he wrote a plot, he did a lot of research for it. Whether the setting was a railroad station or a factory, he would find a photo reference, usually from National Geographic, and give Bob all the research to draw from. He was very orderly and methodical. His only problem was that he couldn't sustain the work... he couldn't produce material regularly enough.
When Kane wanted Robin's origin to parallel Batman's, Finger made Robin's parents circus performers murdered while performing their trapeze act. Bill Finger recalled that,
Robin was an outgrowth of a conversation I had with Bob. As I said, Batman was a combination of Douglas Fairbanks and Sherlock Holmes. Holmes had his Watson. The thing that bothered me was that Batman didn't have anyone to talk to, and it got a little tiresome always having him thinking. I found that as I went along Batman needed a Watson to talk to. That's how Robin came to be. Bob called me over and said he was going to put a boy in the strip to identify with Batman. I thought it was a great idea".
Comics historian Jim Steranko wrote in 1970 that Finger's slowness as a writer led Batman editor Whitney Ellsworth to suggest Kane replace him, a claim reflected in Joe Desris' description of Finger as "notoriously tardy." During Finger's absence, Gardner Fox contributed scripts that introduced Batman's early "Bat-" arsenal (the utility belt, the Bat-Gyro/plane and the Batarang). Upon his return, Finger created or co-created items such as the Batmobile and Batcave, and is credited with providing the name "Gotham City". Among the things that made his stories distinctive were a use of giant-sized props: enlarged pennies, sewing machines, or typewriters.
Eventually, Finger left Kane's studio to work directly for DC Comics, where he supplied scripts for characters including Batman and Superman (introducing to the latter's mythos the character Lana Lang). He would eventually write for other companies as well, including Fawcett Comics, Quality Comics, and Marvel Comics' 1940s predecessor, Timely Comics.
Bill Finger and I created the Joker. Bill was the writer. Jerry Robinson came to me with a playing card of the Joker. That's the way I sum it up. [The Joker] looks like Conrad Veidt — you know, the actor in The Man Who Laughs, [the 1928 movie based on the novel] by Victor Hugo. [...] Bill Finger had a book with a photograph of Conrad Veidt and showed it to me and said, 'Here's the Joker'. Jerry Robinson had absolutely nothing to do with it, but he'll always say he created it till he dies. He brought in a playing card, which we used for a couple of issues for him [the Joker] to use as his playing card.
Robinson, whose original Joker playing card was on public display in the exhibition "Masters of American Comics" at the Jewish Museum in New York City, from September 16, 2006 to January 28, 2007, and the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta, Georgia from October 24, 2004 to August 28, 2005, has countered that he created the Joker to be Batman's larger-than-life nemesis when extra stories needed to be written quickly for Batman #1 and that he received credit for the story in a college course. Regarding the Conrad Veidt similarity, Robinson said:
In that first meeting when I showed them that sketch of the Joker, Bill said it reminded him of Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs. That was the first mention of it...He can be credited and Bob himself, we all played a role in it. The concept was mine. Bill finished that first script from my outline of the persona and what should happen in the first story. He wrote the script of that, so he really was co-creator, and Bob and I did the visuals, so Bob was also.
According to Kane, he drew the Penguin after being inspired by the then advertising mascot of Kool cigarettes — a penguin with a top hat and cane. Finger, however, claimed that he created the villain as a caricature of the aristocratic type, because "stuffy English gentlemen" reminded him of emperor penguins. Kane introduced the Scarecrow and drew his first appearance, which was scripted by Finger. The Riddler was created by Finger and Dick Sprang. The Calendar Man was another villain created by Finger without input from Kane.
In 1940, Finger collaborated with artist Martin Nodell to create the superhero Green Lantern in All-American Comics #16 (July 1940). Both writer and artist received a byline on the strip, with Nodell in the earliest issues using the pseudonym "Matt Dellon".
According to Nodell, Finger was brought in to write scripts after Nodell had already conceived the character. Nodell's name appeared first, before Finger's, in the bylines on the stories that he drew, although when ghost artists such as Irwin Hasen were used, Finger's name appeared first so that the credits then read "by Bill Finger and Martin Nodell". It is standard practice in Modern Age comics to list the writer first and the artist second. As a tribute for his work to DC Comics, the Green Lantern villain Black Hand (William Hand) is named after him.
As a screenwriter, Finger wrote or co-wrote the films Death Comes to Planet Aytin, The Green Slime, and Track of the Moon Beast, and contributed scripts to the TV series' Hawaiian Eye and 77 Sunset Strip. He also cowrote a two-part episode "The Clock King's Crazy Crimes / The Clock King Gets Crowned", airing October 12–13, 1966, in season two of the live-action Batman TV series.
Artist Bob Kane negotiated a contract with National Comics, the future DC Comics, that signed away ownership of the character in exchange for, among other compensations, a mandatory byline on all Batman comics (and adaptations thereof). Finger's name, in contrast, does not appear as an official credit on Batman stories or films. Finger began receiving limited acknowledgment for his writing work in the 1960s; the letters page of Batman #169 (Feb. 1965), for example, features editor Julius Schwartz naming Finger as creator of the Riddler.
Additionally, Finger did receive credit for his work for National's sister company, All-American Publications, during that time. For example, the first Wildcat story, in Sensation Comics #1 (July 1942), has the byline "by Irwin Hasen and Bill Finger", and the first Green Lantern story (see above) is credited to "Mart Dellon and Bill Finger". National later absorbed All-American. National's practice in the 1950s made formal bylines rare in comics, with DC regularly granting credit in its comics only to Kane; to William Moulton Marston, creator of Wonder Woman, under his pseudonym of Charles Moulton; and to Sheldon Mayer.
In 1989, Kane acknowledged Finger as "a contributing force" in the character's creation, and wrote, "Now that my long-time friend and collaborator is gone, I must admit that Bill never received the fame and recognition he deserved. He was an unsung hero ... I often tell my wife, if I could go back fifteen years, before he died, I would like to say. 'I'll put your name on it now. You deserve it.'" Comics historian Ron Goulart has referred to Batman as the "creation of artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger".
Finger's contemporary, artist and writer Jerry Robinson, who worked with Kane from the beginning, said, “[Bill] had more to do with the molding of Batman than Bob. He just did so many things at the beginning, ... creating almost all the other characters, ... the whole persona, the whole temper," Batman inker George Roussos, another contemporary, said, "Bob Kane had ideas while Bill sort of organized them". A DC Comics press release in 2007 stated flatly that, "Kane, along with writer Bill Finger, had just created Batman for DC predecessor National Comics." Likewise, DC editor Paul Levitz wrote, "The Darknight [sic] Detective debuted in [Detective] #27, the creation of Bob Kane and Bill Finger."
Finger was married twice. His first wife, Portia, was the mother of his son, Fred, who died in 1992. After their divorce, Finger married Lyn Simmons in the late 1960s, but they were no longer married at the time of his death. Fred's daughter Athena, born two years after Bill Finger's death, is Finger's only known living heir as of at least 2014.
Finger, who died in 1974, was posthumously inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 1999. In 1985, DC Comics named Finger as one of the honorees in the company's 50th anniversary publication Fifty Who Made DC Great. In his honor, Comic-Con International established in 2005 the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing, which is given annually to "two recipients — one living and one deceased — who have produced a significant body of work in the comics field.
- Finger, Dwight. "Bill Finger". FINGAR and FINGER Family Genealogy. Archived from the original on 2 March 2013. Retrieved 1 March 2013. "Some researchers have put his birth in New York, but the 1920 U.S. Census along with other evidence shows he was born in Denver, Colorado."
- Infantino, Carmine (w). "Last February, The Batman lost a father." Famous First Edition F-6: inside front cover (March 1975), DC Comics
- Nobleman, Marc Tyler (2012). Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman. Charlesbridge Publishing. p. 32 (unnumbered). ISBN 978-1580892896.
- Weinstein, Rabbi Simcha (July 24, 2008). "A Jewish 'Joker'". New Jersey Jewish News. Archived from the original on 18 May 2012. Retrieved 2010-12-29.
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- Desris, Joe (1994). "Bill Finger". Batman Archives Volume 3. DC Comics. p. 223. ISBN 1-56389-099-2.
- Daniels, Les (1999). Batman: The Complete History. Chronicle Books. p. 17. ISBN 0-8118-4232-0.
- Steranko, Jim (1970). The Steranko History of Comics. Reading, Pennsylvania: Supergraphics. p. 44. ISBN 0-517-50188-0.
- Nobleman, Bill the Boy Wonder, p. 5 (unnumbered)
- Daniels, Les (1999). Batman: The Complete History. Chronicle Books. pp. 21, 23. ISBN 0-8118-4232-0.
- Kane, Andrae, p. 41
- Kane, Bob; Tom Andrae (1989). Batman & Me. Forestville, California: Eclipse Books. p. 44. ISBN 1-56060-017-9.
- Kane, Andrae, p. 41–43
- Nobleman, Bill the Boy Wonder, p. 10 (unnumbered)
- Detective Comics #27 and #28 at the Grand Comics Database.
- "Interview: Meet the Joker’s Maker, Jerry Robinson". RocketLlama.com. July 21, 2009. Archived from the original on 25 September 2012. Retrieved 2 March 2013. Part 2, "Interview: The Joker’s Maker Tackles The Man Who Laughs", August 5, 2009. Archived from the original on July 23, 2012.
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- "Web Exclusives — Bob Kane interview". FrankLovece.com (official site of Entertainment Weekly writer). 17 May 1994. Archived from the original on 4 February 2012. Retrieved 2010-12-29.
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- Daniels, Les, Batman: The Complete History, Chronicle Books, 1999, p. 55.
- Wallace, Dan (2008). "Calendar Man". In Dougall, Alastair. The DC Comics Encyclopedia. New York: Dorling Kindersley. p. 65. ISBN 0-7566-4119-5. OCLC 213309017.
- Martin Nodell, The Golden Age Green Lantern Archives Volume 1, preface
- "Garn's Guides: ''Batman''". Geocities.com. Archived from the original on 2009-10-28. Retrieved 2010-12-29.
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- "Interviews with George Roussos", Dark Knight Archives, vol. 2, DC Comics, page 8.
- "DC Comics Names Jerry Robinson Creative Consultant" (Press release). DC Comics via Newsarama.com. October 26, 2007. Archived from the original on 27 October 20007. Retrieved 2010-12-29.
- Levitz, Paul. Retrospective, inside back cover of Detective Comics #500.
- Nobleman, Marc Tyler (1 February 2013). "After NPR, Portia Finger’s friend emerges, part 1". Noblemania. Archived from the original on 1 March 2013. Retrieved 1 March 2013. 2, 2 February 2013. Archived from the original on 1 March 2013. Archived pages require scrolldown.
- Nobleman, Marc Tyler (20 July 2012). "The Dark Knight Creator Rises". Noblemania. Retrieved 1 March 2013. "... Lyn Simmons, Bill’s second wife; they married in the late 1960s. ... Lyn said that Warner backed out when they learned that she was not his widow but rather his ex-wife."
- Marx, Barry, Cavalieri, Joey and Hill, Thomas (w), Petruccio, Steven (a), Marx, Barry (ed). "Bill Finger The Darknight Detective Emerges" Fifty Who Made DC Great: 11 (1985), DC Comics
- "The Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing". San Diego Comic-Con International. 2013. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 2 March 2013.
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- Bill Finger at the Internet Movie Database
- Comic Book Artist #3 (Winter 1999): "The Bob Kane Letter" (September 14, 1965 open letter by Bob Kane)
- Cronin, Brian (July 27, 2012). "Comic Book Legends Revealed". (Column #377), Comic Book Resources. Archived from the original on 22 October 2012. Retrieved August 18, 2012.
- Jones, Gerard (2004). Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-03657-0.