Mr Flibble Talks To... Battling The Penguin
Batman creator Bob Kane passed away in 1998, leaving the world with perhaps its most famous comic book character. Before he died, Bob took some time out from a comic convention he was attending to discuss the creation of his winged vigilante, and his opinion on the Tim Burton movies, with the other penguin...
20 November, 2000
Bob Kane
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble barged through the throng of comic-waving Bat-fans and instructed Andrew to start the tape rolling. Andrew apologised to the comic fan Mr Flibble had bitten, then passed the first question on to Bob: "Did you ever think at the beginning that you would create the world's most POPULAR, and best know, comic book character?"

To tell you the truth, when anything is created, it's like creating a child. When a child is born, between an man and a wife, the child could grow up 25 years later to be a gangster, a murderer, or a president - one never knows, you have hopes for the best for any creation. I don't think Leonardo daVinci knew where any of his inventions were going when he created them, or any painter knew how famous his paintings would be. Van Gogh couldn't sell a painting in his lifetime. He [only] sold two paintings - for lunch.

So when I created the Batman I thought I had something unique, but I never knew in my wildest imagination it would become an American - or universal - icon. I was a poor kid, born in New York, and that it would bring me fame and riches later in life - and early in life! - I never imagined. It has become quite popular, hasn't it! (Laughs)

I'd say probably five of the most recognisable characters in the universe are Batman, Superman, Micky Mouse, maybe James Bond and Shelock Holmes. Maybe one or two others. In the entire universe, in the wilds of Africa, if you say 'Batman' they'll know what you're talking about, along with the four other ones.

So yes, it hits a universal chord, sometimes they try to analyse why. It's the costume, possibly. Costumes have always been very popular - [on] Halloween, everyone wants to dress up in a costume. I think they want to get away from their own personality and get into another character. As an escape, to let off steam. And so, through Batman, they live vicariously. I think every man would love to have a Batmobile, and love to fight against Catwoman. When they go to a theatre and they see Batman, they escape for an hour or two into a fantasy world of Batmania.

I think that's what I attribute the longevity of Batman to; the costume, the escapism, the fantasy, that he fights for the little man. The little man can't fight back - he does, he fights the battles for them. Almost - if I can become allegorical - like a Jesus character, who fought the battles for the underprivileged and the poor.

Mr Flibble whispered that he has also done his bit for the poor - he's always handing out cardboard boxes. Do you think there's a lot of you in Batman?

I think so. I think when I was young - I'll show you photos of me at 40, I LOOK LIKE BRUCE WAYNE. And also not just the physical look of me is in Batman, I came from an impoverished background and have a great empathy for the underdog in life. I feel very sorry for people that are ill, and poor people, and I would like to help them in my own little way, I guess. And through the Batman, I do.

I get letters from all over the world constantly, to this day, and they're from people in all walks of life - from presidents to crippled and dying children. They have a foundation called Make a Wish, and they're very poignant letters, 'We'd like to meet Bob Kane before we die.' One kid was buried in a bat sweatshirt with the bat emblem. It's very poignant when I get these letters, heart-rending, so I've reached all walks of life and all phases of the world's community. That's extremely rewarding - more than the money or the fame.

What did you think of the - very famous - BATMAN TV SERIES in the 1960's? It was very different from your dark perception...

The television show was actually a reproduction of a comic book, a comic transition to the screen. I thought it was very good because they did take the 'pow', 'sock' 'ker-pow's and 'wham's and literally put them on the screen. They used my characters almost literally, it was really a terrific show for its time. It was the year of camp, everything was pop culture at the time, and I thought it was a great show.

I personally like the dark, brooding Batman better. And in the first year, before Robin, Batman was a lone vigilante, dark and mysterious - like the two [Burton] movies. So if I had a choice, I like the dark mood - although I like the campy TV show, I thought it was great fun. And still is.

Mr Flibble claimed that he's friends with hundreds of celebrities. Did you ever meet Adam West? What are your thoughts on the BAT-ACTORS?

Oh, sure, I knew Adam. Adam, to me, he has a strong chin and [is] tall, dark and handsome; [he] looked more like my comic book Batman than Michael Keaton does as Batman for the movies. I say that only because Michael Keaton worked fine as he got into the character, it's kind of a new way of going. But when they first represented him to me as the Batman, I was a little bit surprised and almost disappointed - originally.

Michael doesn't have a big build, he doesn't have a strong, chiselled face, basically. But he's a good actor. They moulded this Bat-suit around him and on him. Actually, Pee Wee Herman would look like Batman in that Bat-suit! (Laughs)

But I thought a young Robert Wagner would be the Batman, really. He has the chiselled features, he would have been elegant and suave as Bruce Wayne; he had a barrelled chest where he could have just worn a union suit. They didn't have to build Robert Wagner up; he's very athletic, in Hart to Hart he did all his own stunts. So I think he would have been just fine. If I were directing, if I were the producer, I would have chosen Robert Wagner - even at 55!

But Michael Keaton was the Batman of the 90's. He's a very good actor. Somehow, when he gets into that uniform, he becomes the Batman. He becomes swashbuckling, he has an air about him. The chin juts out another inch with that Bat-cowl he wears; he looks strong, he looks like Batman.

Which of the recent films do you prefer?

There are parts of the first movie that I like better, and parts of Batman Returns (1992) I like better. I think that TIM BURTON has grown and he's learned from some of the mistakes on Batman (1989). Tim Burton has a very film noir look to his films, they look different to any other film by any other director. They almost look like German expressionism. He gets a certain look that no other director has. He was once an animator, as I was, and he's visionary, he understands the frame, what looks good on the screen.

Sometimes his story-lines become convoluted, because he's so busy getting relationships together - with the Catwoman, and Batman, and the Penguin - that the story-line sometimes weakens from the original script. But all in all it's a mammoth job doing a Batman movie, and this young director has a great vision. They've come out very well, actually.

Mr Flibble was never happy with the casting of The Penguin, and thinks he would have been better in the role. What do you make of today's Batman comics?

Batman has had many incarnations, and my Batman was more naïve, perhaps, but it was the innovative Batman which I'll be famous for. And although we've had dozens of GHOST ARTISTS on the Batman, the only name that'll ever remain will be mine as the creator.

I feel a ghost artist's job is to imitate the cartoonist he's emulating, instead of changing it into his own personality. And so as I look at all of the Batmen over the 50 years, he's changed so much from what I did originally, that it's almost unrecognisable. I don't think they improved it any; I think my clean-cut style, that was under-embellished, was better than the over-embellished one that they have today.

It goes through an evolution; new incarnations, new writers, new artists - but it's still 'Batman by Bob Kane.' To the victor go the spoils! (Laughs)

Mr Flibble enjoyed talking to Bob Kane, and now that it's over...Mr Flibble is very cross.