Sunday, August 4, 2013

Shelly Moldoff previously unpublished interview, 6/2/06

Shelly Moldoff was a comic book artist most associated with Hawkman and Batman, along with multiple Batman villains. I interviewed Shelly for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman. He passed away in 2012.

The interview is transcribed (and slightly edited) from a recording, as I did with all the interviews in this series (Jerry Robinson, Shelly Moldoff, Lew Sayre Schwartz, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Kubert, Arnold Drake, Carmine Infantino, Irwin Hasen).

What was Bill Finger’s personality?

Bill didn’t have much of a personality. You can’t really go into any depth with him.

What was he like when you were talking with him?

Very laid back. Quiet. Ambitious. He wanted to be a writer. But that’s about it. Can’t say he had a great sense of humor or anything like that.

Was he one of the guys or did he keep to himself?

Not really. He kept to himself.

Why do you think that was?

First of all, he was a complete opposite, I would say, of Bob Kane. Bob Kane was tall, good-looking, attractive guy, particularly to the women. Was a womanizer. He had a lot of things personality-wise going for him. He was likable. Bill was very quiet and laid back. He wasn’t an attractive guy like Bob was.

I couldn’t tell. In the few pictures I’ve seen, he looked like he was pretty handsome. He wasn’t?

No, not really. I wouldn’t say that.

Do you have pictures of him?

Not really, no. He was quiet, ambitious, and overshadowed by Bob.

Did his personality change over the years?

He had a lot of personal problems. I don’t know that I should go into it, or anybody else. But he had personal problems.

Did he become more depressed or withdrawn?

I would say he became more withdrawn. For example, Jack Schiff the editor and many other editors liked his work. He was a very good writer. They would give him a script and an assignment, but getting the finished script was like pulling teeth out of him. Many times he wouldn’t finish the last two pages and you had to chase him to get the last two pages. It was just part of his personality or nature. Some people are never late. I was never late on a deadline. But they had to chase Bill a lot and as he got older, it became a little bit more difficult to work with him. I know the editor of Batman and Robin, Jack Schiff, would say, “I’ll give you a script anytime, but I gotta have it. You never bring it in.”

What was his response?

More like begging. He’ll be there, he’ll do it. As I say, he had a lot of personal things.

He only had one son?

I don’t know too much about his family. You have to be careful talking about him because nobody likes to read anything bad about anybody. That’s the nature of the person.

Are you talking about Bill now?

Yeah, I’m talking about Bill. Anybody, for that matter. I used to tell Bob “You got a lot of fans, you got a great strip going, very popular. But you have no rapport with your fans. You look down on them. If it wasn’t for them you wouldn’t be sitting way up here. If you had a better rapport, you’d be much more popular and it would help you. It would make you a better person.
But it didn’t sink in to him. He wasn’t interested. He wasn’t interested in accolades or going to a convention and meeting people. It was of no concern to him. He just didn’t care.

What do you think he thought of Bill Finger?

He thought of him as a writer, period.

Not a friend too?

A fan?

A friend.

Yeah, as much as he could be a friend.

But they weren’t buddies when they weren’t working?

Not really buddy-buddy.

They sound like they were so different.

Some people think that Bill Finger should have his name up there alongside Bob’s. It should be “Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger.” Well, Bob would never give anybody a byline, never under any circumstances would he give you a byline. He wouldn’t give his own father a byline. That was his nature.

Do you know if Bill ever asked for a byline?

I would say he probably did. I can’t say for sure, but I would say it’s only natural to say I’d like to see my name up there. I made a big contribution. But Bob wouldn’t give anybody a nod.

What do you know to be Bill’s contribution to Batman?

I would say the writing, the type of story. It was a like a movie set. He loved to write like that. They were lucky they found Dick Sprang, that was right down his alley. Those big spectacle stories where all the background props and things like that, Bill loved to write like that.

Which elements of Batman did Bill create—certain characters, parts of the costume?

When you say did he create certain characters, this is a subject that a lot of people don’t understand and a lot of people make claims that they did. You get a script, and the editor sits down with the writers, and believe me, they spend an awful lot of time trying to come up with a plot and a story. You get a story and in it it calls for a character that waddles around, short, funny-looking, and in your mind you have to conceive what kind of character they want. He might say to you it looks like a penguin or something like that. And you work on that premise. Now who created the character? Was it the artist or the writer?

There was no one person that said I created Catwoman or I created Penguin?

Well, it comes with the story. I created the visual image of Bat-Mite. In the story, it was about a little alien from outer space, a little tiny creature that flew around and wanted to help Batman. What do they look like? Did he look like a mouse, did he look like a rabbit? What was he like? Did he hop, did he fly? It’s up to the artist to conceive what the Bat-Mite looked like. Then afterwards, what am I going to say, I created the Bat-Mite? I never said I created the Bat-Mite. I did the story, but I never take it away from the writer who came up with the idea.

So you would say it’s a joint effort?

It’s a joint effort. Now Bob doesn’t realize that. Bob never accepted that.

Did you talk to Bob after you stopped working?


What about Bill?

Oh, Bill was long gone. I think Bill had passed away before that.

Did you stay in touch with Bill until he died?

Never, never in touch with Bill.

Do you think Bill deserves a credit along with Bob on the strip, if it were possible?

Not unless you want to give it to everybody else.

Everybody who ever worked on it?

Yeah. What are you going to do, give it to Jerry Robinson, give it to me? Jerry Robinson did the outfit for the Robin, which is an important character. I did something else, somebody else did something else. Bob’s theory was this: I created Batman, it’s my strip. I can do what I want with it. Anybody else that works on it is actually working for me and whatever they do belongs to me. It would never have been possible unless there was a Batman strip. He never acknowledged that anybody had any rights to anything.

You agree with that?

No, I don’t agree with that.

If anything was possible, whose name or names do you think should be on every issue of Batman today, as the creators? Is it a long list?

I would still leave it.

Leave it as Bob?

Leave it at Bob.

Just to make it simple?

At the very beginning when he created it, he put every ounce of energy and talent that he had in it. He was completely taken by it and involved in it. And he did a great job. It was his feeling of the character that made it successful. You gotta give him credit for it. That’s how I feel about it. He was responsible for making it so popular. Add to that different people embellished on different parts of it. But it was his feeling, his spirit, of the way he wanted it done. And he was active at the beginning, he was active the first couple of years, he did participate. And he was very into it. Then once it started taking off, he had other artists, the publisher had other artists come in to help because of the quantity of work that was necessary. Then he kind of stepped out of it. I give him credit for it, no question about it.

Do you have any stories about Bill that stick out, a little anecdote about him that might be interesting to kids? The way he worked, what he said, his reaction?

Not really. He was a very tight guy.

Very what?

Very tight. Never pick up the tab. If you were in a taxi, no matter who he was with, he would get off that cab before you did so that he wasn’t involved in paying the bill. That’s how cheap he was.

Did you have a favorable impression of him overall?

We used to date together, his wife and my wife, we socialized. His daughter used to sleep at my house on the weekends. We were very close. But he was a very funny guy. Cheap. We used to fight over money. I would feel I was [?] a certain amount. His checks bounced regularly.

Are you talking about Bob or Bill?


When you said the story about the taxicab, was that Bob or Bill?


I’m talking about Bill.

I don’t know enough about Bill. I have very little to say about Bill.

Because you didn’t know him well?

I knew just from being there, if he was at the apartment at the same time that I was there. But otherwise we never socialized or anything like that.

I got the impression from the books that you knew him quite well.

Not really. I never said that.

I know you didn’t, but that’s the impression I got when I was reading some of these books.

I didn’t know him that well.

Do you know anybody out there who did know him well?

Not really. As I say, he was a little bit strange and he had a lot of personal problems.

Did you have an impression of Bill?

I don’t know enough about him. But as I say, I admire him on his writing ability. He was perfect for the beginning of Batman because that’s the type of stories that seem to be the main lead story in Batman’s adventures. Dick Sprang loved to delve into history and the museums and get all the background, so it was a great partnership there.

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