If you’ve been paying attention to any media featuring the Caped Crusader released since October of 2015, you may have noticed a slight change in the Bat-byline. Instead of just one name, it now reads “Batman created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger,” because last year, DC Comics finally acknowledged Bill Finger as the co-creator of Batman. A driving force behind Finger finally being officially acknowledged after so many years was the book Bill The Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator Of Batman, which was written by Marc Tyler Nobleman and illustrated by Ty Templeton.
Ty Templeton has been nominated for four Eisner Awards for his work on Batman titles for DC (he won three), and he’s also a member of the Canadian Comic Book Hall Of Fame. He also created a couple of very pointed comic strips focusing on Bill Finger, which have reached hundreds of thousands of people to the name of Batman‘s co-creator, Milton “Bill” Finger.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Ty Templeton about Bill Finger, his contributions to Bill The Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator Of Batman, and the comic strips he’d produced (you’ll find thumbnail links further on).
Graphic Policy: Firstly let me say, genuinely, what a pleasure this is for me. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve used your Bill Finger Bun Toons to explain to people just how much he contributed to Batman. I understand Bill Finger has been a hero of yours for some time – can you tell us about how you first came across him?
Ty Templeton: I was a young teenager in the 70s, during the period that Batman and Detective were often 100 page giants, and they were starting to give the writers and artists proper credit on the reprint stories. So “Bob Kane”, who had signed all the Batman comics I read as a child, turned out to be Bill Finger, and Dick Sprang and Jerry Robinson, and Jack Burnley and a few others all along, and the 100 page giants were starting to reveal that. So in the 70s, I started to realize it was Finger and Sprang who made the Batman stories I loved, not Bob Kane.
When Bill died in 1974, the tribute to him that ran in DC comics hinted generously that he had more than a little bit to do with creating Batman in the first place, certainly everything to do with creating Catwoman and Riddler and Robin and the rest of the gang. Over the next decade or so, there were a few books about the beginning of the biz like “The Steranko History of Comics” that hinted generously as well. It started to be clear Bill’s story was known in the industry, but little known outside of it. When I became a working professional in the 80s, I would have conversations with other working pros who had a similar attitude about Bob Kane and his mistreatment of Bill’s legacy.
Finally, in the 90s, when Kane came out with his auto-biography “Batman and Me” which both praised Finger’s contribution, and included obviously forged illustrations and documents to claim Kane had created the character before he met Bill (there’s a preposterously silly forgery of an “early sketch” of Batman dated from 1936 that Kane manufactured for the book that anyone with functioning eyes can see is a fake), I knew for a fact that Finger had created the character and Kane was lying his ass off. Since then, I’ve held Kane in contempt, and considered Finger the real hero of the story. Kane shouldn’t have lied and forged those things. You cannot trust anything a liar and a forger says.
GP: So it’s safe to say that you were excited to be a part of a book that called attention to Kane’s bullshit?
TT: I’m not sure that I would put it in quite those colourful words, but yes, I was happy to work on a book that called attention to the true story. There’s a number of creators in our biz that are the architects of the modern pop culture world and who aren’t as well known as they should be. Jack Kirby isn’t a household word the way Stan Lee is, and that’s not fair. It’s nice to see Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld are getting a shout out in the new Deadpool movie, but I understand that was at Liefeld’s request personally to the director, and it wasn’t offered by either Marvel or 20th Century Fox. Us lowly comic artists and writers are never going to get the credit they’ve earned unless someone makes a stink.
GP: It must have been exciting when you got to be a part of Bill The Boy Wonder…. How did you get attached to the project?
TT: I got attached to the project fairly simply. The editor called me on the phone and offered me the gig. I’m not sure how my name got chosen by Marc and company, but it did. It’s likely a combination of the fact that I had written and drawn many issues of Batman Adventures (which is a Batman series that was theoretically aimed at a younger reader, but never written that way, so we had an older audience than our publishers expected) and was fairly public about my contempt for Bob Kane. I’ve probably bad mouthed Kane in an interview or two, and those two factors lined me up as a good fit for the project. You’d have to ask Marc Tyler Nobleman how they chose me.
Marc Tyler Nobleman: I made a list of artists I would like to work with and reached out to my top choices personally to feel them out. As I recall, this was even before the book was under contract. Ty responded enthusiastically and demonstrated true knowledge of Bill Finger’s plight. His pre-existing passion for the subject struck me as a huge asset to the project. I passed on my list to my editor. Like many authors, I did not have final say on the illustrator, but I’m thankful Charlesbridge also liked Ty and Ty said yes.
GP: Did you ever think, when you illustrated Bill The Boy Wonder… that you would see Bill get a mention in the Batman byline?
TT: There was hope, but no expectation. The hard-and-fast-rule to credit Bob Kane with everything was part of a legal document, it wasn’t a courtesy move from DC but an obligation. There was no expectation we would change the credits that appeared in print and in official adaptations…we were trying to change the minds of people in the real world. The first inkling that it was working was wikipedia listed Bob and Bill as co-creators a couple of years ago. Wikipedia isn’t constrained by legal fictions and could put the correct story on their site as Warner Brothers/DC Comics didn’t control its content. I should mention that most of the folks who work at DC were champions of Bill and WANTED to give him credit, but were constrained by that contract. When Wiki started to credit Bill Finger as co-creator of not only Batman, but Robin, Alfred, Catwoman, Joker, etc. (each has their own entry on Wiki), it really helped cement the idea in the minds of the public. Soon other websites and news orgs were casually calling Bill the co-creator because they were using Wiki as a source.
GP: How instrumental do you think that book was in finally Bill Finger officially recognized?
TT: I couldn’t possibly tell you because I’m too close to the book. I do know that the book topped a number of “Best of…” lists the year it came out. USA TODAY ranked us one of the 10 best graphic novels of that year, and things like that snowballed the attention the book was getting. Even if you didn’t read it, the title alone (Bill the Boy Wonder: The SECRET CO-CREATOR OF BATMAN) gave away the main story point. Each mention of the book in a major publication created the narrative of Bill’s contribution to Batman’s creation. I like to think we helped. I may be delusional, but I think we helped. Certainly Marc Tyler Nobleman’s discovery of Athena Finger helped, too! He arranged to make sure she got Bill’s royalty checks as the early stories got reprinted (and they’re reprinted a LOT!). I’m fairly sure that Athena’s mere existence helped humanize Bill’s story and that helped people take action.
GP: Do you think that you’re close to achieving what you and Marc set out to do with Bill’s name in the byline, or is there still more to do?
TT: Yes, we’ve seen Bill’s name get put in that “created by” credit, and I never expected that. So yay. It’s unrealistic to expect Athena Finger starts inheriting millions of lost compensation because Bill never tried to assert he was owed anything while he was alive. He may well have been owed something, but it’s impossible now to right that sin. So I’d say there’s not much more work to be done.
GP: Your Bill Finger Bun Toons have gone pretty viral, especially the What If Bob Finger Had Created Batman Without Bill Finger strip. It must have been rewarding seeing the sheer number of people view and share those?
TT: Yeah, it was rewarding. It showed up everywhere. It was a special giveaway poster at a Denver Comicon a year or so ago (everyone attending the convention got a free “Batman without Finger” poster as part of their con-package. That was many many thousands of copies of the poster, given to comic fans, who likely tweeted it, and talked about it. It was reprinted in a couple of magazines in Europe. It showed up on websites like Bleeding Cool and I09, and well traveled comic press sites. Like the book itself, every time you hear the TRUE story, it erodes the legal fiction in the minds of people who see it.
GP: I imagine it must have been a pretty great feeling to finally get a chance to draw the One Fine Day I Summon The Ghost Of Milton “Bill” Finger Bun Toon, eh? I know Bob Kane’s appearance is in his original Bat-Man costume, but I was laughing pretty hard at that last panel.
TT: Yeah, it was. Never expected that outcome. The best part of that “ghost of Bill” story was that I included Marc in the strip, where he gets to meet Bill’s ghost, and Bill thanks him personally. Marc told me that he choked up when he read it, and felt it was as close to meeting our hero as he was going to get. Athena liked it too. Giving a smile to Marc and Athena was a big reward for me.
GP: Lastly, if it came down to a choice; pirates, ninjas, cowboys or aliens?
TT: Probably cowboys. I’m a bit of a sucker for Westerns…I grew up with Clint Eastwood movies and Butch and Sundance. But hey, I’m the guy who really liked Cowboys Vs. Aliens, even if no one else did. And Terra Man (the alien cowboy bad guy from Superman) holds a sentimental place in my heart, even if he’s way too goofy to have ever seen print.